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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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