It is widely known now that ticks are becoming a growing problem, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. This is largely due to an increase in tick’s host population, white-footed mice. Since ticks are excellent vectors for illnesses such as Lyme Disease, Tularemia, Bourbon virus, and many others, they are readily appearing in our daily news (1). As such, there are many circulating myths concerning this tiny, yet powerful, vector.
One prevalent myth, which also relates to mosquito-borne diseases, is that ticks track their targets like vampires—by sensing their blood. This might seem truthful, because ticks can distinguish between heat differences, but more so they actually pick up our carbon dioxide exhalations. I suppose this means that ticks would be more likely to detect you in a stressful situation where you are breathing more quickly and releasing more carbon dioxide (2).
Another common misconception is that ticks have the ability to jump at you while, for example, they are on a tree and you are enjoying the trail beneath. Ticks do not possess the proper body structure to jump, so they could not possibly make the leap. Typically, they crawl up onto your leg or clothing. If you find them in your hair, you might have been unable to sense their movement across your body, considering their small size (2).
Their small size is the source of yet another myth. It is often thought that if you are bitten by the creature, you will be able to feel it. However, because of their minuscule magnitude, this is not necessarily true. Tick nymphs are typically about 1 millimeter long, while adult ticks range between 2-5 millimeters, depending on their species (3). Beyond their size, the bite is also often unnoticed due to certain anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine compounds found in the tick’s saliva. These components dull humans’ immune response, which are necessary for pain detection (4). This is troublesome because of ticks’ ability to carry diseases that worsen the longer they are left undetected.
These myths likely persist because they sound quite logical. For example, we can sense a bee sting, so why can’t we sense a tick bite? Proper education is necessary for our communities if tick-borne disease prevention is a priority.