How ticks get under your skin | Science News

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How ticks get under your skin

A close look at a tick’s mouthparts reveals enviable burrowing tools

By
12:36pm, November 1, 2013

RATCHET AND PULL  A close look at how a tick uses its mouth to saw through skin and hang on to a host for up to a week may inspire engineers to mimic the method.

A new look at a tick’s mouthparts shows how the arachnid saws its way through skin and hangs on for up to a week. The castor bean tick Ixodes ricinus, a European species that carries Lyme disease, faces an engineering problem: Its needlelike mouthparts are good at piercing but useless for hanging on during long periods of feeding. And unlike some ticks, this species does not make a cement to anchor itself to its host.

Using a scanning electron microscope and videos to magnify their subjects thousands of times, German and U.S. researchers found that the ticks use a two-step process to ratchet their way in. First a pair of chelicerae (the winglike structures at top) telescope out to pierce the skin, pumping alternately like engine pistons to gain a foothold. Then the chelicerae switch to a breaststroke motion that draws in the barbed tonguelike needle, or hypostome (center). The tick’s method may inspire engineers to mimic it, the

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