Ticks on a plane

Yesterday, I flew the exhausting, bone-stiffening 10 hour flight from North Carolina to London, England. I’m here to visit the beautiful Natural History Museum to image type specimens of Evaniidae for my graduate work. I was expecting the only trouble I might have was getting through security at the airport with the imaging system I am carrying (there was no trouble!), but sometimes you just can’t plan ahead for certain… peculiar… events while traveling.

I was sitting on the plane next to a young man from London who is studying photojournalism at UNC. While eating our delicious dinner, he suddenly grabs something on his back and utters a few choice expletives under his breath. I watched for a few minutes as he squeezed two fingers together fruitlessly trying to kill the small creature he had found on his back. After a while, he gives up, and I see him throw down a writhing Lone Star Tick into his food! This little arachnid was not among the first things on my list that I expected to see on the plane.

In fact, my fellow traveler did not know that it was a tick he had found. He asked me how I knew it was a tick, and I explained how to identify one and how he might have picked it up. Ticks cling to vegetation with their front legs outstretched, they wait for a sign, such as carbon dioxide, a vibration, or a shadow from a prospective host. Once they are attached to their host, ticks spend several days or weeks feeding on blood before they drop off. He was completely disgusted, even embarrassed (though he shouldn’t have been — he had recently been wandering through a field next to his house), so we switched the conversation around to parasitoid wasps! Truly, this appeared to have disgusted him even further…

Needless to say, the discovery had both of us squirming in our seats for the next few hours!

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