If Ticks could Talk Part One (my name is Luna)

Written by Jenny O’Dea, Ireland © May 2009

I am a very small larva tick, the size of a freckle and my name is Luna. I come from a very large family of 2,000 brothers and sisters, born under a leaf in the forest. We all scattered in different directions as we hatched out, to avoid being eaten by birds so I do feel quite lonely. I am very lucky though, I have an older brother called Dips*.

Despite his name he is very clever and tells me lots of useful things. One day I was very sad as I couldn’t find my mother. Dips sat me down next to him on a twig and told me gently that my mother died after giving birth to us. To protect us from ants and other insects she made sure our eggs were coated with acid, so we were all safe. It made me feel better knowing that she was looking out for us – thanks Mum!

The other day I saw an insect. It had six legs like me (Dips said only older ticks can have eight legs and I’m still a baby). I watched the insect with great interest as it sniffed around the plants and then I heard a buzzing sound. It started to hover in the air and then flitted off up to the sky. I was dead impressed – wow, let me try! I crawled to the end of a blade of glass, made a buzzing noise with my mouth and leapt in the air – wagh that hurt. I fell before I hit the ground and bent my mandible!**

Dips came running to my side. He explained that I will never have wings. At my young age of being a larva I only have six legs but that doesn’t make me an insect. In fact I’m related to the spider family and they don’t fly. I wish he’d told me that before!

A few days later my mandible had straightened again. I said to my brother that I started to feel hungry.  I have not fed since being hatched. Dips told me not to worry – a larva tick can go for five months without a meal. At my young age I have to practice crawling up blades of grass and adopt a questing position. Questing – what is that I asked? He’s so clever I thought. Well, Dips sat me on a branch in the shade, to prevent me dehydrating, while we chatted. Questing he says is where the tick climbs up to the top of a blade of grass or undergrowth. Here they balance waiting for an animal to pass by. That animal is then the host. It takes practice to get the questing position just right, he said. One gust of wind and you’re over the edge and have to start again. Sometimes the animal will be an inch too far out of the way – without wings we are unable to fly and we don’t have the powerful jumping abilities of fleas so they’re just beyond our reach. That’s why it takes practice to get it right.

I told my brother that I will practice hard – I don’t want to wait 5 months before getting some food! I asked my brother what happened to all my brothers and sisters that were born. He said, Luna you are too young to know. That will be told later. Meanwhile stay close to me and practice your climbing skills. And don’t forget, no more flying! I giggled and said, OK, I’ll try!

*Unfortunately Luna hasn’t worked out yet that Dips isn’t related to her. She looks up to him as an older brother – bless!
**Ticks don’t have mandibles but a muscular palp – Luna still has much to learn!