Study suggests electric bond between humans and ticks.

Study suggests electric bond between humans and ticks.

Harnessing Static Electricity to Combat Tick Bites: A Surprising Discovery

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Could eliminating the static electricity that humans naturally give off lower the chances of a tick bite? According to new British research, it seems like it might just be possible. Although ticks can’t jump, they can land on a host to bite by taking advantage of static electricity. Lowering the ability of ticks to attach to people and animals could have significant social and economic benefits, as ticks can transmit various illnesses, including Lyme disease.

Lead author Sam England from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences explained that many animals, including humans, can accumulate significant electrostatic charges. This is similar to rubbing a balloon on your hair or when animals rub against grass, sand, or other animals in nature. These charges can reach surprisingly high levels, equivalent to hundreds, if not thousands, of volts. Importantly, static charges exert forces on other static charges, either attractive or repulsive depending on their polarity.

The team at the University of Bristol wanted to investigate whether the static charges that mammals, birds, and reptiles naturally accumulate could potentially lift parasitic ticks through the air, improving their efficiency in finding hosts to feed on. To test this, they brought statically charged rabbit fur and other materials close to ticks to observe whether the ticks would be attracted to them. Astonishingly, they observed the ticks being pulled through the air across gaps of several millimeters or centimeters, equivalent to a human jumping up several flights of stairs.

England and his team used previous measurements of the typical charge carried by animals to mathematically predict the strength of the electric field between a charged animal and the grass on which ticks usually sit and wait for hosts to pass by. They then placed ticks underneath an electrode, with an air gap in between, and gradually increased the charge on the electrode until the ticks were attracted onto it. This allowed them to determine the minimum electric field strength at which the ticks could be attracted. Their findings revealed that this minimum electric field was within the range predicted by their mathematical calculations, suggesting that ticks in nature are likely attracted to their hosts by static electricity.

The implications of this discovery extend beyond ticks. Other parasites such as mites, fleas, and lice may also be influenced by static charges. As a result, the findings could potentially lead to the development of new technologies to minimize tick bites in humans, pets, and farm animals. Antistatic sprays and other innovative solutions may be devised to neutralize or repel the static electricity that attracts ticks to their hosts.

The surprising nature of this discovery has captured the imagination of scientists like England, who stated, “Until now, we had no idea that an animal could benefit from static electricity in this way, and it really opens up one’s imagination as to how many invisible forces like this could be helping animals and plants live their lives.”

Whether this research leads to practical applications or not, it highlights the importance of exploring unconventional avenues in our quest to understand and mitigate the impact of pests and parasites on human and animal health. The study was published in the journal Current Biology on June 30, 2023.

Key Points and Insights:

  • Ticks can use static electricity to attach and bite humans and animals.
  • Lowering the ticks’ ability to attach can have significant social and economic benefits.
  • Various animals, including humans, accumulate significant electrostatic charges.
  • Static charges can exert attractive or repulsive forces on other charges.
  • The researchers observed ticks being pulled through the air by static electricity.
  • Mathematical calculations supported the observation that ticks are attracted by static electricity.
  • Other parasites such as mites, fleas, and lice may also be influenced by static charges.
  • Antistatic sprays and new technologies may help minimize tick bites.
  • The discovery opens up new possibilities for understanding invisible forces in nature.
  • Unconventional avenues should be explored to address the impact of pests and parasites on human and animal health.

For more information on tickborne diseases and preventative measures, please visit the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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