No matter how young or old a tick is, it’s pretty small--at least to humans. When they’re looking for a meal, adult blacklegged ticks are about the size of a sesame seed.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist John Carroll works at the ARS Animal Parasitic Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. He's been tracking ticks for years to see where they are--and how to keep them away from animals and people.
Carroll wanted to find out how likely people are to pick up ticks during different outdoor activities. He tick-proofed himself by wearing boots, tucking his pant-legs into his socks, and covering the exposed sock with tape. When he went out walking, tick nymphs hitched a ride on the boots, but many were brushed off as he walked along. But when Carroll switched to sneakers and left the tops of his socks exposed, fewer blacklegged tick nymphs lost their grip on his footwear.
This adult scientist also slowly crawled on his hands and knees for 30 seconds through leaf litter (picture that!). Afterwards, he found nymphs clinging to his pant legs and hands, but mostly on his pants.
Sometimes Carroll finds ticks even when he's not looking. After taking a clean load of laundry out of his washer one day, he saw a live lone star tick sitting on top of the agitator. So he decided to find out if washing and drying clothes is a good way to make sure no ticks are lurking in your pants or socks after you come inside.
He put groups of two different tick species--blackegged ticks and lone star ticks--into mesh bags and washed them with regular laundry loads. He used different detergents and water temperatures, and also dried the bags of ticks at different temperatures. Many of the ticks survived their adventure in the washing machine. The way Carroll was able to kill all of them was to dry them at high heat for an hour.
Carroll was also part of a team effort to find a way to protect deer against adult ticks. A female adult blacklegged tick might produce as many as 3,000 eggs during her life. If adult ticks can't feed, they can't lay eggs--and when there are no eggs, there are no larvae or nymphs around to bite people.
ARS' Sci4Kids: Bridging the gap between science, agriculture, and you.