Science in Scotland: How do You Catch Ticks?

Here comes a cliche excuse on why I haven’t been posting, but it is a legitimate one. I have had major ‘make it or break it’ exams that consisted of everything learned this year from October to May that I had been studying constantly for. And then after those exams, I got to take a trip to Scotland immediately afterwards to get started on my Master’s thesis project.

On my trip to Scotland, I stayed in the beautiful outskirts of Aberdeen at the James Hutton Institute, and got the chance to explore the countryside of eastern Scotland hunting for deer ticks.


Like this little deer tick right here,a female Ixodes ricinus.

Known by a few names (Deer ticks, Sheep ticks, Blacklegged ticks), these ticks are the vectors for Lyme disease, a disease cause by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdoferi. It causes a wide array of symptoms including flu-like illness, rash, arthritis, muscle pain, and even neurological disorders. So, collecting them and studying them is really important in keeping track of the disease.
I am specifically checking their population densities in these certain areas we dragged in, and later this month they will all be tested for the presence of Lyme disease. In this way, we can see what the risk is of Lyme disease being spread amongst animals and even humans in the areas we studied.

Collecting these little guys is a lot easier than you might think though, which is good because the immature stages are super tiny. You simply drag a white or light colored blanket along the grass/plants for either a set distance or time. After this drag, you flip the blanket and look for adult ticks or small nymphs and then you can pick them off.


Wellies also help to keep the ticks from crawling up your leg 😉

In doing tick collections like this, I spent a lot of time both in the woods and out in open fields, meaning I got to see some amazing views! Scotland really is as beautiful as everyone says (even if the rain may have thrown a couple of our days off).

scot 3

Our first day in the countryside, out in the field

One day we got to take a break and go to the beach during our lunch hour, and enjoy some ice cream!

But when this is your office for the day, you don’t even really need a break from work 🙂

For two days in a row, we even got to hang out with some fun farm animals!


We got to collect in a field next to these cows.


And we got some judgmental looks from the sheep.

And on one day off, the beach is always nearby, so I even got to go to the coast and hang out on the cliffs.

scot 5

Sitting on the cliffs of Nigg Bay.

All in all, it was amazing experience with days full of dragging and searching blankets, and crawling under trees, and nights full of tick checks and data input.  When I came to study Parasitology in London, it was my passion to get to learn more about Lyme disease and study it, and the fact that I got the opportunity to work on it for my summer project is completely unreal. I’m super excited to see what the results of our collected ticks will be, and really hope I can continue to study them when I get back home.  It’s my goal at this point to get the seriousness of Lyme disease out in the public eye more (especially in the northern hemisphere where it’s becoming more and more prevalent). I know way too many people back home who are suffering from it, or have at least had scares, when it is fairly preventable.

So just some tips for everyone out there if you’re going out into a wooded or grassy area where ticks are likely to be (including parks that you might think are tick-free, they’re not):
→Wear repellent; DEET is the best one we’ve got right now, so that one is recommended.
→If possible, tuck your trousers into your socks, or wear wellies, to prevent them from crawling up your legs.
→Let’s be honest, in this warm weather, the prior step is probably not possible. I’m pretty sure you’re all wearing shorts and T-shirts out, so it’s vitally important that you do a tick check every time after you’ve been out in the woods. Even if you were bit, it is thought for Lyme disease that the ticks needs to be bitten for at least 36 hours before transmission (some other sources say 24, but either way), if you check that night after being out, you should be able to remove it before any transmission can occur. Just check your whole body, using a mirror if needed, to find any adult ticks or nymphs that might be bitten to you.
→When removing ticks, I keep seeing all these different methods being posted on Facebook and everywhere else that deal with twisting and Q-tips, and Vaseline. Just no. Get some tweezers, grab it by the head, and pull straight out assuring you have the mouthpiece. You can use tweezers, or they also sell a special tool with a small “U-shaped” hook at the bottom that allows you to grab the mouthpiece. Stick to this method. Please. You can then put it in alcohol to kill it, or flush it.

Following these, you will be able to fully enjoy being outside without worry, and you’ll be able to take in all the beautiful views like this one 1

This entry was posted in Aberdeen, Entomology, Grad School, James Hutton Institute, LSHTM, Parasitology, Science, Scotland, Summer project, Thesis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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