Smithsonian Science Reports on Ticks; 900 Species Around the World; Some Even Live in Artic and Antarctica

Did you know that the blood-sucking parasite known as the tick is actually nearly 900 different species? Or that the tick is not an insect, but an arachnid? Anything you might want to know about the scourge of dogs everywhere can be found at the U.S. National Tick Collection (USNTC) ( The USNTC is a part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and is housed at Georgia Southern University’s Institute for Coastal Plain Science in Statesboro, Ga. The USNTC is the largest continuously curated tick collection in the world, with 96 percent of the world’s recognized tick species and specimens from every continent. Smithsonian Science science writer Maryilyn Scallan Epstein questioned Lorenza Beati (, M.D., Ph.D., the USNTC’s curator, about ticks. How long have ticks been on the planet? “This is a much debated issue. There are few fossil ticks, and they are relatively recent, appearing 100-to-90 million years ago. Morphologically, they are pretty identical to modern ticks, so there is little to learn from fossils.” Where do ticks live? “Ticks live on all continents: They parasitize reptiles, mammals, birds, and even (rarely) amphibians. They are not associated with water environments, with the exception of one tick that is found on sea snakes. One species, Ixodes uriae ( , has an odd, disjunctive distribution (they are found in the arctic region and Antarctica) and feeds on sea birds. Ticks can be nidicolous (living in the nests and burrows of their hosts) or free in the environment.” Why are ticks a source of vector-borne disease?
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