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When Do We Eat? The Clock is Ticking

Gibbs, Allen G.
Molecular ecology 2019 v.28 no.1 pp. 33-34
Dermacentor variabilis, adults, disease vectors, females, hosts, life history, longevity, males, predators, starvation, ticks, transcriptomics
Ticks are simultaneously fascinating and disgusting. Anyone who has removed a bloated blood‐filled tick from themselves or a pet understands the “yuck“ factor they arouse. But ticks are also fascinating from a physiological perspective. Ticks are the ultimate sit‐and‐wait predators. Female ixodid ticks (hard ticks) consume a single meal during each life stage (larva, nymph and adult), which means only three lifetime meals over a 1‐ to 3‐year lifespan. Most males do not feed as adults, so they only feed twice. Thus, prolonged starvation is a quintessential aspect of tick life history. Although ticks have been widely studied for their importance as disease vectors, the vast majority of research has focused on tick–host interactions. Ixodid ticks spend the overwhelming majority of their lives off their hosts, but little is known about these periods. A new study begins to fill in some of these knowledge gaps. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Rosendale, Dunlevy, Marshall, and Benoit examine physiological, behavioural and transcriptomic changes occurring during long‐term starvation of the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis. Their work provides insights into how ticks are able to go so long between meals and how they prepare for their next meal.