18 July 2023
Static attracts ticks to people and animals according to new research at the University of Bristol.
The static charges that mammals, birds, and reptiles naturally accumulate when they rub against objects in their environment like grass, sand, or other animals are high enough to lift parasitic ticks through the air and even against gravity by electrostatic attraction. Humans are apparently able to accumulate surface voltages as high as 30,000kV, which could theoretically attract a tick across a gap of several centimetres.
This makes it easier for ticks to attach onto animals. Up to now we had thought that ticks ‘quest’ for a new host by climbing grass/vegetation and lying in wait to ambush passing animals. However, they have no way of making contact with hosts that are beyond their reach, as they do not jump...
The results showed that electrostatically charged animals passing within a few millimetres/centimetres of a tick, but without making direct contact, can generate electric conditions that allow the tick to bridge the gap. Static also helps them stay on the hosts surface, allowing more contact time for the tick’s claws to grip onto the host.
So It looks like static electricity has a big part to play in their questing success..
It is expected that passive electrostatic attraction is not limited to ticks and may be something used by other ectoparasites, such as mites, fleas or lice, so the practical applications of this research can be applied more generally to other external parasites:
England et al., Static electricity passively attracts ticks onto hosts, Current Biology (2023), https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.cub.2023.06.021