New app helps Maritime researchers keep track of ticks
HALIFAX -- A new app is just one of the ways researchers at Maritime universities are keeping track of ticks as part of work towards awareness and prevention of tick bites.
Dave Holland knows a thing or two about ticks. Not only does he work in pest control, he’s also an avid outdoorsman, and knows what it’s like to have a tick get overly attached.
“Oh, I don’t like ticks at all,” exclaims Holland. “As you pass by, they will hook on.”
Holland says this year’s hot, dry weather means he’s seeing fewer ticks compared to last year, but he’s always vigilant when it comes to preventing tick bites, including limiting where his granddaughter is allowed to play.
Now there is an app for members of the public to report whenever they spot a tick on themselves, on a pet, or out in nature.
The app 'eTick' was launched in 2017 by Jade Savage, a professor of biology at Bishop's University in Quebec. The app is now available in the Maritimes, in collaboration with several local universities, including Acadia in Wolfville, N.S.
“We’ve had over 568 valid submissions,” says Kirk Hillier, a biology professor at Acadia.
Users can visit the eTick website and create a free account and upload a photo, logging when and where the tick was found.
That data is being analyzed for tick identification, and locations are being mapped to show what kinds are being found, and where.
Most people are familiar with the ‘blacklegged’ variety, also known as deer ticks. While those ticks can carry various bacterial diseases, including Lyme disease, other types of ticks have been identified in the region.
“Four hundred of the submissions are dog or cat-based ticks, and 234 of those have been bites on humans,” says Hillier. “One-hundred-sixty-six of those are the blacklegged tick, (that can carry) Lyme disease, and then we have two other species.”
“It’s a kind of citizen science, where you’ve got coverage that is the entire province and it's so much cheaper, and so much faster to get them identified,” explains Dave Shutler, a biologist located in Coldbrook, N.S.
Meanwhile, researchers in the Acadia labs are doing work focusing on blacklegged ticks, and specifically, their sense of smell.
“Ticks are almost totally blind, so they don’t really see, but they orient themselves through the environment through smell,” explains Nicolette Faraone, part of the tick research team at Acadia.
Faraone recently posted video of her research in action, proving ticks can swim.
Now she and her team are looking at just what types of scents deter ticks from detecting potential hosts.
It’s a project for the Nova Scotia-based company behind Atlantik, an essential oil-based tick deterrent spray.
“Think about it like someone is going to plug your nose. You don’t smell anything else anymore, and you don’t know what’s going on around you,” explains Faraone.
She says, so far, citrus-scented oils seem to work well, but they are testing other scents like basil.
Dave Holland has some of his own strategies for keeping ticks from making themselves at home in your backyard.
“Cut down the grass, keep the grass trimmed along the edges,” says Holland, who also says backyard chickens love to eat ticks.