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Ticks use static electricity to cling to hosts: study

July 3, 2023 – It seems that some people really are tick magnets.

Researchers have found that ticks can overcome gravity to cling to people and animals. The key to that is static electricity, just like when someone rubs a balloon and things persist with it.

The study was published on Friday within the magazine Current BiologyIn the primary phase of the research, scientists exposed ticks to furry rabbit paws and acrylic surfaces, each of which was electrostatically charged.

“Ticks were readily attracted to these statically charged surfaces across air gaps of up to several millimeters or centimeters,” the authors wrote. “This demonstrates that electrostatic attraction of ticks to hosts can occur across large air gaps of many tick body lengths.”

In a second a part of the study, the researchers created computer models simulating the electrostatic charges in environments where each ticks and mammals are present. In one simulation, the researchers observed that the parts of a cow's body with the strongest electrical charge were its nose, tail and legs – the parts of the body most probably to come across ticks. They also found that vegetation near the animal had a robust electric field just just a few millimeters wide.

In a final phase of the study, the researchers conducted laboratory experiments through which they replicated the electrical field conditions from the pc model and successfully lifted some ticks across an air gap. However, some ticks didn't fully make the jump after they resisted.

The authors identified that their findings might be used to develop recent tick prevention strategies, resembling developing electrostatically resistant clothing or spraying livestock.