How Ticks Dig In With a Mouth Full of Hooks | Deep Look

How Ticks Dig In With a Mouth Full of Hooks | Deep Look

Why can’t you just flick a tick? Because it attaches to you with a mouth covered in hooks, while it fattens up on your blood. For days. But don’t worry – there *is* a way to pull it out.

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Spring is here. Unfortunately for hikers and picnickers out enjoying the warmer weather, the new season is prime time for ticks, which can transmit bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

How they latch on – and stay on – is a feat of engineering that scientists have been piecing together. Once you know how a tick’s mouth works, you understand why it’s impossible to simply flick a tick.

The key to their success is a menacing mouth covered in hooks that they use to get under the surface of our skin and attach themselves for several days while they fatten up on our blood.

“Ticks have a lovely, evolved mouth part for doing exactly what they need to do, which is extended feeding,” said Kerry Padgett, supervising public health biologist at the California Department of Public Health in Richmond. “They’re not like a mosquito that can just put their mouth parts in and out nicely, like a hypodermic needle.”

Instead, a tick digs in using two sets of hooks. Each set looks like a hand with three hooked fingers. The hooks dig in and wriggle into the skin. Then these “hands” bend in unison to perform approximately half-a-dozen breaststrokes that pull skin out of the way so the tick can push in a long stubby part called the hypostome.

“It’s almost like swimming into the skin,” said Dania Richter, a biologist at the Technische Universität in Braunschweig, Germany, who has studied the mechanism closely. “By bending the hooks it’s engaging the skin. It’s pulling the skin when it retracts.”

The bottom of their long hypostome is also covered in rows of hooks that give it the look of a chainsaw. Those hooks act like mini-harpoons, anchoring the tick to us for the long haul.

“They’re teeth that are backwards facing, similar to one of those gates you would drive over but you’re not allowed to back up or else you’d puncture your tires,” said Padgett.

— How to remove a tick.
Kerry Padgett, at the California Department of Public Health, recommends grabbing the tick close to the skin using a pair of fine tweezers and simply pulling straight up.

“No twisting or jerking,” she said. “Use a smooth motion pulling up.”

Padgett warned against using other strategies.

“Don’t use Vaseline or try to burn the tick or use a cotton swab soaked in soft soap or any of these other techniques that might take a little longer or might not work at all,” she said. “You really want to remove the tick as soon as possible.”

— What happens if the mouth of a tick breaks off in your skin?
Don’t worry if the tick’s mouth parts stay behind when you pull.

“The mouth parts are not going to transmit disease to people,” said Padgett.

If the mouth stayed behind in your skin, it will eventually work its way out, sort of like a splinter does, she said. Clean the bite area with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment.

—+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:

—+ For more information:
Centers for Disease Control information on Lyme disease:

Mosquito & Vector Control District for San Mateo County, California:

—+ More Great Deep Look episodes:

How Mosquitoes Use Six Needles to Suck Your Blood

So … Sometimes Fireflies Eat Other Fireflies

Meet the Dust Mites, Tiny Roommates That Feast On Your Skin

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It’s Okay To Be Smart: Inside an ICE CAVE! – Nature’s Most Beautiful Blue

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KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio and web media.

Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, which is supported by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Fuhs Family Foundation Fund and the members of KQED.

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48 Responses

  1. Naim Noor says:

    Who immediately check their bodies for tics after watching this video?

  2. butts says:

    Where is Lauren ?

  3. MOHAMED says:

    3:05 I actually paused the video to check my bed.

    • StoneOfMoon says:

      MOHAMED this is the main reason why I won’t sit in my bed after coming home from being out. I must shower and/or change clothes before sitting or laying in my bed.

    • My face is the antidote says:

      StoneOfMoon lol

    • LunarSkyWolf7 says:

      I deal with these guys everyday on my bed.

      After multiple self-family-cleaning attempts we just gave up. Too many financial issues to hire exterminators to help us find their main nest or whatever-it-is.

  4. Sushaanth P says:

    Such high quality content, every time.
    Deep Look must be among the top channels.

  5. TheTruthSentMe says:

    Now that’s a narrating/explaining voice.

  6. Roy says:

    The perfect video to watch while having breakfast. Thanks deep look.

  7. LagiNaLangAko23 says:

    Thank goodness we don’t have Lyme disease here. We already have enough mosquito-based illnesses.

    I remember pulling ticks out of our dogs before and dunking them in a can kerosone. After we are done, we burn the demonspawns to send them back where they came from.

  8. Billel Atmani says:

    This channel is just amazing, can’t get enough of all this knowledge, let alone the the closeups *_*

  9. LexJustDance says:

    You’ve uploaded again! Your content is amazing and educational as always. I really love the sound effects, they give me chills everytime 🙂

  10. KIMCHI GODDESS says:

    😧I’m TERRIFIED of ticks… I’m more scared of them than snakes. But somehow you guys mesmrize me into watching this. Nice vid 👍

    • Ian Macfarlane says:

      Have you ever heard of the Tick Snake? 😄
      Like many snakes it bites when alarmed, but once it bites it stays on you for three days – it also makes a noise like rubbing polystyrene together.
      A deeply unpleasant creature.

    • KIMCHI GODDESS says:

      Ian Macfarlane 😒……..i hate you now😠😭

    • Ian Macfarlane says:

      Aaaww, come on – if you saw me you couldn’t hate me………..

      …….you might pity me though😜

  11. Viet Dau says:

    Normally, I wouldn’t willingly watch a tick video because they make me squeamish, but Deep Look gets a pass because they’re so great

  12. unknowndeoxys00 says:

    Not sure if it was even possible to film the puncture process, but thank goodness it was animated 😅

  13. SWR24 says:

    I swear Deep Look rivals National Geographic in terms of quality

  14. Fauzan Fairus says:

    Wow we can really see the insect, gross and fascinating…

    But, lovely video!

  15. Mikes Science says:

    Ticks look way more fierce in that first shot

  16. Skt1 jax says:

    My favorite channel <3

  17. Paul I says:

    Best channel ever! Welcome Laura!!

  18. Kestral says:

    Easily one of the best educational channels on YouTube, the visuals are amazing and narration tops it off <3

  19. Johnes B says:

    Any hearts left?

  20. Cherry Wabbit says:

    Heart for me? Btw, love your channel!

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