How ticks come for a ride? 

This is a story of an animal that is a master of hitching a free ride on you; even if you like it or don’t. I am talking about ticks. With all the challenges with Lyme disease – it’s something that all of us should take seriously. 

On a beach in Northern California – I recently encountered an insect trying to slowly crawl on a blade of grass; seemingly towards my foot. Not knowing what I might encounter – I was happy to entertain it for a little and let it crawl on me. But unlike its other unsuspicious hosts; this time the predetor became a prey. I remembered I had a foldscope in my backpack and what would I do sitting on the beach. 

So I pulled a slide and picked up the tiny creepy crawly and put it on a slide and put a cover slip and some small piece of tape. Pro tip: I carry my foldscope with a small set of slides, cover slips and a simple roll of tape. I gave my last illumination LED to a kid in a workshop; so I rely on outdoors sunlight or table lamps for illumination. 

What I saw was jaw dropping beautiful. Here is a live video of my experience. I don’t need to say too much; since the video tells the whole story.  ​

All the key aspects of tick anatomy are covered in this video pretty well. You can see the blood being digested from a prior meal. You see the mouth parts used for piercing. But the best part – are the little “shoes” at the end of each leg with hooks and pads to really grab on to us for a long period of time.. days sometimes. These are adhesive or suction pads. It’s been mentioned before that they are inflatable – which would be incredible. 

Here is the moment I realized it’s a tick. 

A simple observation like this can teach us an incredible amount about the physiology and life style of an animal. The capacity to grab on and let go at will on human skin is an incredible virtue for this animal. I was tempted to next image it in reflection mode while feeding on my foot. I resisted my tempetation for another day since I wanted to know what species this is (please leave suggestions below in comments); before I try to do hand blood feeding. 

The Dropbox link is a downloadable link to the video; since it’s best seen at high resolution – feel free to download and watch the same at full resolution. 

Keep exploring 


Note:. Several people inquired about the location; its limantour beach. 

Pro tip2: I know a lot of students are actively posting data now a days. One suggestion would be is to try to think hard about what is limiting resolution for your images. If they are not as crisp (the video above is taken with a regular foldscope and an iPhone); something is not right in how you built or are using a foldscope. Please look around to make sure you folded your unit perfectly. Read and see tutorial, talk to other foldscope users etc etc.. the more you play with this tool – the better you get. Best of luck. 

5 Comments Add yours

  1. laksiyer says:

    Oh my goodness… Manu, you simply cannot allow yourself or anyone else to be bitten by this. My best guess is that this is a Pacific Coast Tick. This can transmit a Rickettsial disease called rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and what not.. If that doesnt convince you not to be bitten :), try this.. The Lone Star tick bite gives your meat allergies, you have no choice but to become vegetarian :)…

    Excellent video, love the suction cups. I noticed a particular mark, perhaps this is common of females.. (see the lone star tick post).
    Thiese preserve very well though, so it is worth making a permanent slide of this.

  2. Manu Prakash says:

    I will be super careful @Laks. I want to figure out a phantom to be able to image the process of biting and cementing ticks use to feed. Maybe some bait might get them to bite.

    From the looks of it – the adhesive pads seem inflatable. Maybe that is used in “peeling off” process when they want to let go of the target.


  3. laksiyer says:

    How about the medium you use for the mosquito? If you can get something like that to work for ticks, it would be wonderful. Lyme is a particularly terrible problem where I live.

  4. Honomi says:

    What a wonderful story! I never thought I’d use “tick” and “beautiful” in the same sentence before, but this tick is so beautiful! Jaw dropping, indeed. I do hope no one got bitten by this beauty!

    Any pair of biomimicry shoes for humans inspired by these suction pads out there?

    Manu, would you have a pro tip on how to mount a foldscope onto an iPhone so effortlessly as shown in your videos? I seem to always struggle with the alignment because iPhone camera is on the corner and the magnetic coupler has to stick out.

  5. Hi Manu! loved the post and the video on Vimeo. Would love to watch the video on the Dropbox link too, but it isn’t available anymore. Would it be possible for your to share it with me? Many thanks!

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