Researchers use microscope equipped camera to learn how ticks pierce and adhere to skin (w/ Video)

Oct 30, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Credit: Dania Richter, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

(Phys.org) —A team of researchers from the U.S. and Germany has succeeded in filming ticks as they pierce the skin of a mouse ear, attach themselves and then start sucking blood. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the team describes how they filmed the ticks and what they learned in analyzing the video they created.

Most people know about , the tiny insects that pierce the skin, insert the tip of their head, then hold on tightly while they suck out for days at a time. Ticks have also been found to be carriers of Lyme disease. Though it might seem strange, up until now, no one had really known for sure the exact mechanism ticks use to pierce, stick and then suck blood. Some believed they inserted a needle like appendage, others suggested they sawed through the skin then pushed in their sucker. With the video made by the researchers, all arguments have been put to rest—as it turns out, ticks have novel body parts they use to work their way into the skin, and then to stay there.

Ticks, it turns out, have dual appendages attached to the top of their heads, called chelicerae—each is like a little saw—the two of them are lined up together and slide back and forth against each other on their smooth sides. The back and forth motion causes the chelicerae to slowly pull themselves into the skin. Once in deep enough, the chelicerae bend like wall hangers and push back against the inside of the skin. This is how they stay stuck so hard. Next, a harpoon-like appendage (called a hypostome) is pushed between the chelicerae into the skin, where it is used like a straw to suck blood. As part of the overall process, the ticks also push chemicals into the to prevent the prey from feeling what is happening so that it won't be interrupted.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This video shows simultaneous retraction of the flexed cheliceral bundles via a breaststroke-like movement that causes both cheliceral shafts and their hinges to flex into a V-like form. This ratchet-like action causes the ventrally barbed hypostome to enter the skin of the host.

Unfortunately, the filming process was not able to reveal another of the tick's secrets: how it disengages once sated (if the host hasn't discovered its presence and pulled it out)—possibilities included severing its appendages, or perhaps, relining them, and reversing the process they underwent to get in.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This video shows Opaque and transparent confocal microscopic rendering demonstrating the positions of the paired chelicerae of a nymphal Ixodes ricinus tick relative to the surface of a host and the articulation of the cheliceral digits within the chelicerae.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This video shows cinematographic representation of the process of attachment of a nymphal Ixodes ricinus tick to host skin.


Explore further: A tick's spit leads to an entire lesson in blood clotting

More information: How ticks get under your skin: insertion mechanics of the feeding apparatus of Ixodes ricinus ticks, Published 30 October 2013. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1758

Abstract
The tick Ixodes ricinus uses its mouthparts to penetrate the skin of its host and to remain attached for about a week, during which time Lyme disease spirochaetes may pass from the tick to the host. To understand how the tick achieves both tasks, penetration and attachment, with the same set of implements, we recorded the insertion events by cinematography, interpreted the mouthparts' function by scanning electron microscopy and identified their points of articulation by confocal microscopy. Our structural dynamic observations suggest that the process of insertion and attachment occurs via a ratchet-like mechanism with two distinct stages. Initially, the two telescoping chelicerae pierce the skin and, by moving alternately, generate a toehold. Subsequently, a breaststroke-like motion, effected by simultaneous flexure and retraction of both chelicerae, pulls in the barbed hypostome. This combination of a flexible, dynamic mechanical ratchet and a static holdfast thus allows the tick to solve the problem of how to penetrate skin and also remain stuck for long periods of time.

Related Stories

Tick season starting early this year

Apr 23, 2012

(HealthDay) -- Tick season has started earlier than normal due to the mild winter, which means hikers, gardeners and others who love the outdoors should take precautions to prevent becoming a meal for ticks, ...

Deterring ticks with citrus and millipedes

Mar 11, 2013

Why do birds, monkeys and other animals rub themselves with citrus and creatures like millipedes? One likely reason is because certain plants and arthropods contain natural repellents.

Tick by tick

Aug 19, 2013

When University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers set out to study Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, they faced a daunting challenge.

When ticks transmit dangerous pathogens

Sep 15, 2011

Lyme disease is a dangerous disease which is transmitted by ticks. Blood-sucking ticks ingest the agents that cause the disease – bacteria of the species Borrelia burgdorferi and its relatives – during a blood meal, ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (9) Oct 30, 2013
The alternate side reciprocating motion sounds like a bee's stinger. Extracted from the bee, and laying on a finger it will 'drill' in and inject bee-venom.
VendicarE
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 30, 2013
Has anyone filmed how Republican blood suckers do it?
Protoplasmix
1 / 5 (10) Oct 30, 2013
Has anyone filmed how Republican blood suckers do it?

It's bad enough in print. First they accept your donations, then they accuse you of being incompetent when it suits them, and finally they say you're corrupt for donating to the opposition. See http://www.buzzfe...avily-to
Nice folks to do business with, huh?

If Ted Cruz wants less government, he should quit.

Towards a more perfect union, of the people, by the people, for the people <-- what the Republicans want less of. It's worse than tics and Lyme disease.

They listen to, respect and admire a guy, called El Rushbone, who admittedly uses only half his brain. What do you expect?

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...