Can ticks fly with the help of static electricity?
Many have asked - can ticks fly? Apparently they can, using static electricity.
Scientists from the University of Bristol studied the naturally occurring electrostatic charges in animals. They reported their findings in a study entitled “Static electricity passively attracts ticks onto hosts.”¹
“Mammals, birds, and reptiles are known to carry appreciable net electrostatic charges, equivalent to surface potentials on the order of hundreds to tens of thousands of volts,” the authors wrote.
“Therefore, we hypothesize that their parasites, such as ticks, are passively attracted onto their surfaces by electrostatic forces acting across air gaps.” (An electrostatic charge is equivalent to walking on a floor or rubbing one’s head with a balloon.)
“These findings open a new dimension to our understanding of how ticks, and possibly many other terrestrial organisms, find and attach to their hosts or vectors.”
“Using statically charged rabbit fur and other charged materials in the lab, researchers were able to pull castor bean ticks (Ixodes ricinus) across gaps of air three to four times their body length,” writes Christie Wilcox in Science News.
This electrostatic force is so strong it can overcome gravity, enabling lateral or vertical lifting motions.
The investigators found that ticks used static electricity to help them launch and attach onto a passing human or animal.
Watch: A tick flying through the air using static electricity. (Source: Christie Wilcox at Science News)
- “Our results show that electrostatically charged hosts passing within a few millimeters of a tick, but without making direct contact, can generate electric conditions that enhance the capacity of ticks to successfully bridge the gap and establish contact.”
- “… strategies and technologies can now be developed to disrupt this electrical interaction. For
example, the treatment of livestock, pets, or human clothing with anti-static coatings may well reduce the rates of tick infestation in these contexts.”
- England SJ, Lihou K, Robert D. Static electricity passively attracts ticks onto hosts. Curr Biol. Jul 24 2023;33(14):3041-3047 e4. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2023.06.021
- C. Wilcox. Watch ticks fly through the air via the power of static electricity. Science News. June 30, 2023. https://www.science.org/content/article/watch-ticks-fly-through-air-power-static-electricity