Thursday, 22 March 2012

Hey!! That's almost a tail full!

With apologies to Mr Hancock and the Blood Donor sketch!
Living in rural areas brings rural problems... this particular one might make readers scratch a bit.

Jerry turned up after almost a week on the prowl elsewhere... he had also picked up a hitch hiker... in fact several, it turned out later!

He wouldn't let us get near his tail when stroking him... as he had been away for so long, and him being a 'full' tom and all... I at first thought he was a bit sore round the nethers... then, whilst he was yet again grooming himself down there, I saw....


He had a female Tick [Ixodes ricinus] La Tique du Mouton, fully engorged, at the base of the tail...on the underside... NO wonder he was tender behind. For personal reasons there is no picture of the Tick in situ... not for Jerry's modesty... just for our personal safety...
Removing the offending beast was no easy task.... it eventually entailed [aarrrg!] leather gauntlets and the use of the "wrong"* trousers as a lap protector.... me holding Jerry very, very, very firmly, whilst Pauline used the wonderful Tick Remover...

The Tick1 Tick Remover from Clas Ohlson... Sweden's answer to DIY!!
Gently pulling, she removed the tick, head and all... with this implement there is no chance of  bursting the tick, or squeezing blood back into the wound.
Jerry did NOT like that at all... fought all the way! And then sulked... as only cats can!!

This is the tick trapped in the remover...
The upper picture shows that the mouthparts have come away cleanly!
The idea is to get the head and mouthparts in the very narrow slot...
fat chance with a struggling cat!!

But a few cat treats soon brought him round and the comfort 'petting' allowed a fuller inspection... which revealed a lot more, in different stages of development, so I can, therefore, reveal the three stage development of the Sheep Tick. Get ready to itch... but please read.... as in Susan's blog entry on the processionary caterpillars, these ticks are dangerous. Also please read Susan's comment [it is the first one]on this blog entry.... There is also a very good entry on Lyme Disease on

Ixodes ricinus is what is known as a hard tick... this is to difference it from soft bodied ticks... not to do with its attitude! It has three stages after hatching....

From left: Engorged female, male, engorged 1st instar [nymph]
The reason they are posing so nicely is that they've been for a swim in a little
Eau de Vie du Mirabelle at around 75% ABV... and are drunk...DEAD drunk!

The female that is shown above lays a huge mass of around a thousand eggs, in long grass, and then dies.
Out of the egg comes the nymph [or first instar]... which as you can see from this picture is very, very small.  The newly hatched young crawl up a grass stem and using a sense organ called Haller's organ, situated on their front legs, 'sniff' out a suitable host. At this first stage it can be any mammal passing that has some blood in it! Size at this point is not important... it needs food, fast, to survive and allow it to develop to a second instar nymph. Once fed [engorged] it lets go and falls off the host... back into the environment... where it moults... and becomes dormant for the winter.

Unfed and dead 1st instar and engorged 2nd year tick

Stage two, the second year, is much the same. It awakes from dormancy and again crawls up a stem... and waits... if it gets too dry, it crawls down again to rehydrate and then tries again.The race is on to find a host, feed and moult so that it can complete stage two... much like a computer game really! If it doesn't get a feed before it has used up its energy resources.... it DIES! But it only takes one adult female to lay thousands more...
Once fed and moulted it hibernates again...

Female from the front showing mouthparts
Mouthparts are showing clearly on this shot...
taken just after release from the Remover.

The mature adults come out of dormancy in the spring and mate... this can take place on or off a host... once mated the female goes in search of that final meal so that she can complete the life cycle.

The head and mouthparts in close-up...
Outside are the two Palps [used to help hold the head in place]
Between them is the Hypostome [the syringe]
Prevention is the best cure....

Effective self protective measures include:
  •     Use of repellent on skin (DEET) and/or permitherin on clothing
  •     Avoiding contact with overhanging vegetation where ticks are likely to be questing
  •     Wearing light coloured clothing to easily see ticks and brush them off before they attach to skin
  •     Tuck trousers into socks or shoes to minimise ticks under clothing
  •     Regular checks for ticks on clothing
  •     Full tick examination once leaving tick areas- prompt removal (less than 24 hours) greatly reduces the risk of  transmission
  •     Regular use of tick treatment on companion animals... we use Frontline [available from Point Vert / Gamm Vert amongst others]
  •     Excluding sheep or deer from garden areas
  •     Ensuring garden borders and lawns are keep short
  •     Consider installing a 'buffer zone' of stones or chipping around rural gardens bordering woodland or grassland

Fuller details are:

Sheep Tick / European Wood tick - Ixodes ricinus
The life cycle of Ixodid ticks involves four stages: the egg stage and three parasitic stages, larva, nymph and adult.
Ixodidae... hard ticks.

GENUS           Ixodes
SPECIES         ricinus
LOCATION     Europe and north Africa (from Iceland to Russia and  down to the Atlas Mountains/Iran)
HABITAT        Woodlands, heath lands, forests and bushes
ACTIVITY     From March to June and August to November
LIFE CYCLE  Three host tick - egg to adult takes 1-6 years (usually 2 or 3 years)
MATING HABIT    On or off host before females can engorge
                             Females feed for 6-13 days before dropping on the ground, laying thousands of eggs and dying
FEEDING HABIT     Female adults can grow 200 times their initial size when engorged. Feeding causes tick paralysis
HOSTS         Adults target medium to large mammals: sheep, cattle, dogs, deer, men, horses
                    Nymph and Larva target small mammals (90% insectivores), rodents, rabbits, birds, reptiles and bats
HOST SEEKING     Seek host using Haller's organ
  •  Dogs: Borrelia burgdorferi, B. afzeli, B. garnii
  •  Cattle: Babesia divergens (redwater), B. bovis, B. ovis, Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease),
  •  Staphylococcus aureus (sheep tick pyremia), Ehrlichia phagocytophila (cattle tick borne fever),
  •  Coxiella burnetii (Q fever), Rickettsia conorii (Boutonneuse fever), Anaplasma marginale
  •  Horses: Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Louping ill, Ehrlichia equi
  •  Man: Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), Louping ill, Coxiella burnetii (Q fever),Tick borne encephalitis

SIZE         Female: 3-3.6 mm
                Female engorged: 11 mm
                Male: 2.4-2.8 mm
                Unfed Nymph: 1.3-1.5 mm

* The "wrong" trousers are my chainsaw leg protectors.. they are big, clunky, mighty uncomfortable... but very necessary!


Susan said...

Lyme's disease is quite common and no joke. If you get a tick and it immediately causes a lot of redness and soreness rather than just itching you must seek medical attention immediately. If you don't get treatment within a few hours you will get Lyme's disease and that's a year of your life feeling crap. At least here you don't get tick paralysis that can kill dogs. I grew up in tick country in Australia, where you are not allowed to move stock unless they have their tick treatment certificate. I get ticks at least once every summer here, but so far they've just been first instar deer ticks, picked up from walking through long grass. They are considered one of the hazards of my trade. Full tick examination means all the little moist nooks and crannies...

Susan said...

PS Forgot to say this is a fantastic post - excellent overview and brilliant photos to illustrate the points. Well done to Pauline for managing to remove that female intact.

GaynorB said...

Absolutely fascinating post with fantastic pics.
Now I'm going to be late for school .... but it will be worth it!

Jean said...

Great job, thanks !!

PS I have sent you an email.

Tim said...

Susan... it is well done that tool... both Pauline and I have removed ticks with it and, while it is very difficult to get the mouthparts in the slot, the design is such that the tool doesn't burst the tick. Both of us have failed to lose head and mouthparts using this.

As for the pix... I couldn't find any good pix on the interweb with the info... all were poorly illustrated or just showed parts, to illustrate points, or showed them as preserved specimens... very poor in my book for such an important disease host.

I have a pic, out of sharp focus, of that second stage engorged tick, halfway up the glass pot I put it in... if their claws can climb glass they can climb bleedin' anything!

Colin and Elizabeth said...

Excellent post. I got a dose of Lyme's three years ago. We think because of poor tick removal. We have a couple of 'tools' now but they don't look as good as yours. It amazes us how they can actually get to your skin despite every effort to keep them out.

Loire Valley experiences said...

Never actually seen or been prey to these nasty things -gladly. Have seen now -in great detail.So I can tick that off list.-Sorry!

Niall & Antoinette said...

Excellent and really informative. Lyme's disease is no joke!

Where can you get the tool--although we Front-Line our 2 regularly it would be good to have one of these.

Tim said...

Nial & Antoinette...
The tool is available only from Clas Ohlson... there is a link to the tool on their site under the picture of the tool.
Unfortunately they don't do mail order... yet.
But, if there isn't a Clas Ohlson store near anyone who can go and get one for you, there is one in Leeds... and I can get someone to get one for you.

Jim... you aren't really sorry, are you?! But don'y worry, I keep a load of old aircraft sick bags by the computer for just such occasions!