First Tick of the Season

13 May

Probably the only tick of the season. The last one I saw in Scotland was about four years ago, under embarrassing circumstances. My new boyfriend Bunty had taken me into the bonny Highlands to meet his mother, who lives in a beautiful wilderness, with numerous animals running freely around her cottage. She is generally in tune with nature. I was keen to impress her.

Her dog Pipkin liked me, which was a good start. I found a tick on Pipkin’s neck, and proudly identified it.

“A tick!” I said.

Bunty’s mother remarked that she has great trouble removing ticks, because it’s so hard to do without leaving the head in, which then gets infected.

“Ah!” I said. “I’m great at removing ticks.”

I told her about the pack of feral dogs I ran around with as a child in Greece, and about the enormous juicy ticks they would pick up from the marsh grass. I said I’d learned a foolproof technique from the locals for removing them, and I was well-practised. You twist it slowly clockwise, then quickly anticlockwise with an upward yank, and presto!

“I’ll remove it for you,” I declared, and before Bunty’s mother could stop me, I had grasped it and twisted its head off.

There was a long, difficult silence. Bunty’s mother was none too pleased. The subject of ticks has not been raised between us since. Unlike me, Pipkin survived her tick ordeal without any trauma at all.

This year’s tick was on the neck of our rabbit Broccles. It attached itself a few days ago, but after the Pipkin incident, I was leery of applying the Foolproof Technique. I googled for alternative Foolproof Techniques, and found an implement called a Tick Twister, which is allegedly the most Foolproof of tick devices out there. It arrived in the post today.

The trick is to slide the prongs under the tick, each side of its head, and then keep twisting till it lets go. This tick had got so fat on Broccles’s blood that I could barely wedge the thing under it, but in the end it was jammed in and I twisted the handle. Out came the tick, head and all – bish, bash, bosh. Tick Twister 1, Foolproof Technique 0. Broccles did a little frolic.

I have an exam in two days. It could be argued that I should be studying instead of writing blog entries about ticks. Then again, it could be argued that this counts as revision,* since my exam is on animal physiology, and I will need to use my knowledge of ticks in it. Here are some things I will need to know.

  • A tick has turquoise blood. Red blood takes its colour from the iron used to transport oxygen, but a tick’s blood uses copper, and so its blood is turquoise.
  • A tick has no veins in its body – instead, the turquoise blood washes freely around its organs. Even so, it possesses a heart.
  • A tick breathes through holes in its sides. The air passes through structures like bound pages, called book lungs. Covering a tick with Vaseline, as some people do, kills it very slowly by suffocation.
  • When a tick dies, the extensor muscles within its exoskeleton relax: it hugs itself.

I didn’t want to feel responsible for the tick’s death. Nor did I want it crawling back over the garden wall to attach itself to our pets again. To resolve this dilemma, I carried it into the field across the main road and released it among the grasses, where it hunkered down among the roots to digest its meal. There’s no way it will cross that road. It’s foolproof.

*Revision – UK term for exam preparation.

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9 Responses to “First Tick of the Season”

  1. murfomurf May 13, 2012 at 2:12 am #

    Great story! I didn’t realise ticks went so far north! In Australia we don’t get many in the south which I daresay is due to the species of tick here. However, although there seem to be many cases of tick-borne disease, such as Lyme, the official public health edict is that “It doesn’t exist”! Is there any record of Lyme Disease in Scotland? I’m pretty sure a friend’s father died of it last October after being in hospital for six months, but the pathologist released a “no cause” report & would not touch the spinal fluid! Mysteriouser & mysteriouser.[ I know you won't correct my word usage.]

    • Snailquake May 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

      Scotland has a lot of deer, and Lyme disease is indeed present here. On field trips, even for a stroll along the edge of Loch Lomond, Health & Safety demands that we wear boots and long trousers because of this. In fact, Scotland has a reputation for being awash with ticks – but, as mentioned, I saw far more in Greece.

      That’s a bothersome story about your friend’s dad! Why would the authorities hide such a thing?

      • Anonymous May 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm #

        Hey, I had a tick upon my leg, and got rid of it by the application of a drop of motor oil, conveniently located at the end of my cars dipstick. The tick promptly asphyxiated and let go and was gone from me. Sadly dead, I suppose, but there will be successful tick bowling league nights, and more ticks will be conceived thereafter in the backs of little tick Chevy’s everywhere!
        Good you got it off of Broccles!

        • Snailquake May 21, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

          Broccles seemed quite pleased to get rid of it too. Not so pleased to visit the vet for a check-up afterwards!

  2. Bunny Eats Design July 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    I am glad I have never met a tick here in New Zealand. Broccles must have hated it. I never knew that people would be so kind to transport and spare them, very informative post. You are mind bogglingly kind!

    The turquoise blood thing makes me suspect they are nano souvineer leftover from an old alien species. If we get invaded by aliens, perhaps you will be spared for your kindness.

    • Snailquake July 31, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

      I hope so. I’m not entirely pro the idea of being probed by Little Green Men, especially if I don’t get dinner first.

  3. amelie88 July 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    So there ARE ticks in Europe! People were always telling me there were none–yet my mother was bitten by one in France when I was a very young girl. Ticks are pretty widespread across North America, especially in the Northeast (I don’t live too far from Old Lyme, Connecticut which is where Lyme’s Disease was first diagnosed). Every spring/summer we put Frontline on my dog–a product you can buy on the USA for your pets which repels ticks and fleas. We have a million deer that like to come visit in our backyard and along with the deer, there are also deer tick! We once had a harrowing tick experience when we went on a trip to upstate rural New York. We let my dog out to play and he came back in with over 20 ticks on him! Luckily he is white so finding the ticks was easy. But poor dog had to stay inside for the rest of the trip!

    • Snailquake July 31, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

      Yes indeedy, we have plenty of ticks in Europe. And deer. And Frontline. Your tick advisors know nothing! You should demand your money back.

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