The “spark” I feel when reaching for my love on a cold winter day is very real. Ask Georgia. Getting an electric snap on the end of your wet nose does not ignite feelings of love! (Don’t worry my spouse knows where he ranks in the love department.)

Dog sitting in front of person with ears back

Most of us are familiar with static electricity. But did you know that there are organisms out there using it to their advantage? I sure didn’t. Static electricity is little more than an annoyance making socks stick to the inside of my pajama pants lost for weeks. 

However, it appears that our least favorite parasitic arachnid is using it to levitate across the great divide. Ticks are riding electrostatic charges to reach hosts! Yes, you read that correctly. Ticks are using static electricity to find their next meal.

Terrestrial animals (birds, mammals, and reptiles) carry noticeable electrostatic charges. Researchers hypothesized that ticks are using these charges to cross air gaps. Given that ticks were not blessed in the art of the jump, this could be quite useful when a yummy snack is just out of reach. 

tick on wood grain table

Castor Bean tick nymphs (Ixodes ricinus) were “readily attracted across air gaps of up to several millimeters or centimeters onto these statically charged surfaces” and the force is great enough to overcome gravity allowing questing ticks reach hosts without direct contact. Isn’t that just swell?

Naturally occurring electric fields might also help ticks “stick” to other species (e.g., other insects) to hitchhike their way into other places. Are these bugs or some Sci-Fi spawn?!?

Who knew a weapon against those little blood suckers could be found in the laundry room! Many synthetic fibers accumulate electrostatic charge at a higher rate than natural fibers. Treating outdoor clothing with an anti-static coating or using fibers with minimal capacity for electrostatic charging could reduce our magnetic personality. At least when it comes to ticks.

-Jeannine Fleegle
Wildlife Biologist
PA Game Commission 

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