How Ticks Dig In With a Mouth Full of Hooks | Deep Look

Why can’t you just flick a tick? Because it attaches to you with a mouth covered in hooks, while it fattens up on your blood. For days. But don’t worry – there *is* a way to pull it out.

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Spring is here. Unfortunately for hikers and picnickers out enjoying the warmer weather, the new season is prime time for ticks, which can transmit bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

How they latch on – and stay on – is a feat of engineering that scientists have been piecing together. Once you know how a tick’s mouth works, you understand why it’s impossible to simply flick a tick.

The key to their success is a menacing mouth covered in hooks that they use to get under the surface of our skin and attach themselves for several days while they fatten up on our blood.

“Ticks have a lovely, evolved mouth part for doing exactly what they need to do, which is extended feeding,” said Kerry Padgett, supervising public health biologist at the California Department of Public Health in Richmond. “They’re not like a mosquito that can just put their mouth parts in and out nicely, like a hypodermic needle.”

Instead, a tick digs in using two sets of hooks. Each set looks like a hand with three hooked fingers. The hooks dig in and wriggle into the skin. Then these “hands” bend in unison to perform approximately half-a-dozen breaststrokes that pull skin out of the way so the tick can push in a long stubby part called the hypostome.

“It’s almost like swimming into the skin,” said Dania Richter, a biologist at the Technische Universität in Braunschweig, Germany, who has studied the mechanism closely. “By bending the hooks it’s engaging the skin. It’s pulling the skin when it retracts.”

The bottom of their long hypostome is also covered in rows of hooks that give it the look of a chainsaw. Those hooks act like mini-harpoons, anchoring the tick to us for the long haul.

“They’re teeth that are backwards facing, similar to one of those gates you would drive over but you’re not allowed to back up or else you’d puncture your tires,” said Padgett.

— How to remove a tick.
Kerry Padgett, at the California Department of Public Health, recommends grabbing the tick close to the skin using a pair of fine tweezers and simply pulling straight up.

“No twisting or jerking,” she said. “Use a smooth motion pulling up.”

Padgett warned against using other strategies.

“Don’t use Vaseline or try to burn the tick or use a cotton swab soaked in soft soap or any of these other techniques that might take a little longer or might not work at all,” she said. “You really want to remove the tick as soon as possible.”

— What happens if the mouth of a tick breaks off in your skin?
Don’t worry if the tick’s mouth parts stay behind when you pull.

“The mouth parts are not going to transmit disease to people,” said Padgett.

If the mouth stayed behind in your skin, it will eventually work its way out, sort of like a splinter does, she said. Clean the bite area with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment.

—+ Read the entire article on KQED Science: https://www.kqed.org/science/1920972/how-ticks-dig-in-with-a-mouth-full-of-hooks

—+ For more information:
Centers for Disease Control information on Lyme disease:
https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/

Mosquito & Vector Control District for San Mateo County, California:
https://www.smcmvcd.org/ticks

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How Mosquitoes Use Six Needles to Suck Your Blood
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD8SmacBUcU

So … Sometimes Fireflies Eat Other Fireflies
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWdCMFvgFbo

Meet the Dust Mites, Tiny Roommates That Feast On Your Skin
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACrLMtPyRM0

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—+ About KQED
KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio and web media.

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is supported by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Fuhs Family Foundation Fund and the members of KQED.

For Pacific Mole Crabs It’s Dig or Die | Deep Look

Pacific mole crabs, also known as sand crabs, make their living just under the surface of the sand, where they’re safe from breaking waves and hungry birds. Some very special physics help them dig with astonishing speed.

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Among the surfers and beach-casting anglers, there’s a new visitor to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach shoreline.

Benjamin McInroe is there for only one reason — to find Pacific mole crabs, a creature commonly known as “sand crabs” — and the tiny animals whose burrowing causes millions of small bubbles to appear on the beach as the tide comes in and out.

McInroe is a graduate student from UC Berkeley studying biophysics. He wants to know what makes these little creatures so proficient at digging their way through the wet sand.

McInroe hopes that he can one day copy their techniques to build a new generation of digging robots.

— What are Pacific Mole Crabs?

Pacific mole crabs, also known as sand crabs, are crustaceans, related to shrimp and lobsters. They have four pairs of legs and one pair of specialized legs in the front called uropods that look like paddles for digging in sand. Pacific mole crabs burrow through wet sand and stick their antennae out to catch bits of kelp and other debris kicked up by the breaking waves.

— What makes those holes in the sand at the beach?

When the waves recede, mole crabs burrow down into the sand to keep from being exposed. They dig tail-first very quickly leaving holes in the wet sand. The holes bubble as water seeps into the holes and the air escapes.

— What do birds eat in the wet beach sand?

Shore birds like seagulls rush down the beach as the waves recede to catch mole crabs that haven’t burrowed down quickly enough to escape. The birds typically run or fly away as the next wave breaks and rolls in.

—+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:

https://ww2.kqed.org/science/2018/02/13/for-pacific-mole-crabs-its-dig-or-die/

—+ For more information:

Benjamin McInroe, a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, studies how Pacific mole crabs burrow
https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~bmcinroe/

Professor Robert Full directs the Poly-PEDAL Lab at UC Berkeley, where researchers study the physics of how animals and use that knowledge to build mechanical systems like robots based on their findings.
http://polypedal.berkeley.edu/

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https://youtu.be/ak2xqH5h0YY

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZWiWh5acbE&t=1s

—+ See some great videos and documentaries from the PBS Digital Studios!

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Why Is Blue So Rare In Nature?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g246c6Bv58

—+ Follow KQED Science

KQED Science: http://www.kqed.org/science
Tumblr: http://kqedscience.tumblr.com
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—+ About KQED

KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio and web media.

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is supported by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Fuhs Family Foundation Fund and the members of KQED.