Dragging for ticks

My “Advanced Ecology and Biodiversity” class has been surveying ticks in and around Sewanee. We’re documenting which species live here, where they live, and what their relative abundance is in different habitats. So far, the hands-down winners for numbers of ticks are the cattle pasture and adjacent wooded roadsides near Lake Dimmick. In one twenty meter sample, we found nearly six hundred small ticks.

We sample by dragging a canvas cloth over the ground, then counting the ticks that have latched onto the cloth. This simple method is the standard protocol for assessing tick populations. These “tick drags” go very quickly when we encounter few animals, but when a seed tick “bomb” hits the cloth, it can take half an hour to pick off all the minute crawlers.

We’re storing the ticks in vials of alcohol. We’ll identify them later on in lab and we may also extract DNA to assess whether any of the ticks are carrying disease. We discovered today that when shaken the vials make snow-globe like ornaments. We’ll be marketing these as rustic woodland souvenirs.

Note that cloth drags are not the only way of sampling ticks. The label in the next vial hints at some misery.

Extra credit for students who wear T-shirts with slogans appropriate to the sampling method for the day:

As part of the class, students will be producing a pamphlet on the ticks and tick-borne diseases of Sewanee. I’ll pass it along through this blog when it is ready. For now, I recommend not rolling around in the cattle pasture at Lake Dimmick. The lawn around Stirlings coffee shop appears to be much safer for that kind of activity. (For real: we found no ticks there; Abbo’s Alley, on the other hand, had a few.)

19 thoughts on “Dragging for ticks

  1. Anonymous

    Fascinating and important work.
    I’ll be interested in reading the results.
    “Body check. Tick it off.”
    Thanks and “check yourselves” often.

  2. hayden

    When I was at the Jones center, I did some work with a phd student who was doing her research on ticks – looking at prevalence of ticks and tick-born disease in burned and unburned areas- so I am very familiar w your methods! I do have to say, it’s kind of satisfying plucking them off and putting them into the vials! :). We used tape to get the seed ticks though, there were waaaay too many to get off one by one. If I remember correctly, at one site, in a 15 minute survey, we had 36 bunches. It took nearly 3 hours to log 15 minutes of sampling bc each time we hit a cluster of larvae we had to stop the clock to get them off…crazy! Thanks for the flashback. Sounds like a great project. Will you be posting the results?

  3. manayunkia

    Being from Arkansas, which at one time had the highest per-capita tick density in the nation, I am impressed by the number of those seedy little bastards, including those collected in the traditional way (Will’s leg). I am also impressed by the fantastic work you do with your class. Applause.

    David J.

  4. Pingback: Itch, magnified | Ramble

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