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.
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.)