Nature Lab

By Dianne Van Dien | May 1, 2022
From Missouri Conservationist: May 2022
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Community Science

Ticks and Tick-Borne Illness Study

Sending live ticks through the mail may seem odd, but that’s exactly what MDC and A.T. Still University’s (ATSU) Deb Hudman, senior research associate in microbiology and immunology, have asked Missourians to do. “We’re receiving ticks from our citizen scientists and using those samples to survey for diseases in each county,” explains MDC Ecological Health Unit Science Supervisor Matt Combes.

Ticks are mailed to Hudman’s lab, where they are identified, and a subset are tested for bacterial pathogens that can infect humans. Data is compiled by county and posted on the ATSU website. When the study is complete, results will be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services.

“When ticks bite, they release antihistamines and anticoagulants,” says Hudman. “They do everything they can to not be detected and then they put in a cementing agent to hold themselves in place.”

Once attached, ticks ingest blood until they are full. They then drop off the host to molt into the next stage of their life cycle or lay eggs if the tick is an adult female. They need three blood meals to complete their life cycle; each blood meal increases their chances of acquiring pathogens. Bacteria detected in Missouri ticks include those that cause ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

“Missourians have made this work possible,” says Hudman. “I estimate that 3,700 people have submitted ticks so far. Without their participation, there’s no way we could cover the entire state.”

The tick survey runs from April 2021 through September 2022. View a map of current survey results by county and find how to participate at www.atsu.edu/ticks.

Ticks and Tick-Borne Illness Study at a Glance

12,821 ticks have been submitted to the project since April 2021 (8 different species)

  • 71% Lone star tick
  • 25% American dog tick
  • 2% Blacklegged tick
  • 1% Winter tick
  • Remaining 1%: Gulf coast tick, rabbit tick, brown dog tick, and bat tick

After hatching, all ticks go through three life stages. Each stage requires a blood meal for the tick to molt into the next stage.

Learn more at www.atsu.edu/ticks

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler