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How to remove a tick from a bird Part One Identification - What, Where and Why?

This is not something that happens very often and in fact I have never had occasion to see a tick on my chickens, basically because if one of mine stuck its head into a border at the front of the house and saw a tick, it wouldn't think twice about eating it. In fact poultry, such as guinea fowl are often kept, partly to deal with tick infestations.

Chamois white-laced Polish hens Organically raised


Our gentle but adventurous foraging fantails, however are another matter.

Fantails foraging for moss

 

Identification


Preamble: I have to say right from the start that the more I read about ticks the more confused I get. There is quite a volume of information floating about but it is also very hard to tie a lot of it down. With regards to photographic depiction, even given that the engorged adult female alters her appearance as she feeds, there are still many contradictions. As regards my pigeon, at the outset I thought this tick might be Argus reflexus a one-host pigeon tick but that now seems unlikely given the one-off nature of my pigeon's tick. Argus reflexus is supposed to haunt dovecotes in some numbers. More likely this is a none-host-specific creature, which a foraging pigeon has picked up in the farm track in front of our house. This being a favourite lane for dog walkers and along which our old friend below travels when she moves pastures.

Sheep - Brebis

Flotsam and Jetsam:  The tick is a haematophagous arthropod belonging to the class of Arachnida, so is basically a blood-sucking spider. Like the common poultry lice it is an ectoparasite, living externally on the skin and similarly, the tick can live for some time without food but the female needs that final blood-meal to lay her eggs. There are hundreds of different varieties of ticks but they are divided into two simple kinds, the hard bodied Ixodidae and the soft bodied Argasidae, although simple is perhaps not the right word as the female of the hard bodied type when, 'expecting' and well-fed is very soft and squishy!

It is also confusing in that, as mentioned above, some species of tick are host specific and others either opportunistic or actually are reported as needing several different host types to complete their life cycle, which seems rather complicated and risky. Accordingly they are referred to under the additional titles of one, two and three-host ticks. Their life expectancy also seems to vary greatly, depending on species and lifestyle (hibernation periods, for example) and thus can vary widely from months to years. It also doesn't help that they start their early stages of life as 'seed' ticks or larvae with six legs and move through their nymph stage and adult life with eight. 

However, despite difficulties with identification of the exact species, I would suggest that you certainly know when your bird has one, they are very obviously attached to it and often in the most obvious of places such as the face. I presumed, by the look of this one that this was a fully grown adult female tick

 
Tick on our fantail pigeon


 

Life cycle and Lifestyle of the Tick


As ticks are not great at locomotion, certainly in the larval stage, after hatching from the egg they need to wait until something passes by to catch on to it, often frequenting animal paths, sometimes climbing grasses and stalks to wait patiently at the right level. This they do to achieve their first meal and it is known, rather poetically, as 'questing'. Certain ticks are thought to start their lives in the seed tick stage by feeding for a few days on small creatures such as mice and birds. When the seed tick finishes feeding it falls off back to the earth, it sheds its skin to become an eight-legged nymph and goes back on the look-out apparently for something bigger.  Other ticks, however, such as the Argas persicus, seem to prey mostly on birds, in particular the domestic chicken and their lifestyle is, like Argas reflexus, limited to hiding in crevices in the coop and feeding on the birds at night. This is similar to the red poultry mite,  Dermanyssus gallinae, which is also of the class Arachnids and which I will be dealing with in a following post.

Organically raised fantail pigeons


 

How the Tick Feeds and How it Stops.


The most important and interesting thing about the tick is the manner in which it feeds because this has direct bearing upon its successful removal. The saliva of the tick is thought to contain a powerful anticoagulant, which keeps the blood flowing once the tick has, with its peculiar mouth-parts, sawn its way through the skin and anchored itself onto its host. This way of attaching itself is what makes it difficult to remove. In addition, certain ticks are reputed to secrete a form of glue, which makes the bond between the host and parasite even stronger. The saliva is supposed not only to prevent the blood from clotting but also to have the properties of a local anaesthetic. This seems to me to be logical, as for the bite to be painful or uncomfortable at the outset could cause the host to try and dislodge the tick, which needs time, often several days, in which to feed. Once the tick has fed enough it withdraws its mouth-parts, dissolves the glue and falls off the host. 

Ticks as Vectors of Disease


Again this is a controversial topic, and in particular with reference to the removal of the tick because of the perceived danger of the tick regurgitating blood back into the host if pressed too hard by the tweezers and/or potential infection if the mouth-parts are left embedded in the wound. Having read several papers and articles on the above I have again found contradictions. Some authors maintain that the tick should be left to feed undisturbed, as it will then drop off when full. Others however, postulate that any infection carried by the tick can only be transmitted after the first 24 hours of feeding (some mention 48 hours). This latter therefore, would mean that removing the tick, when you first observe it, might be a suitable precaution. Personally, I just think that having a creature sucking your blood for three or four days is not a good idea and it can be damaging to the particular sensitive areas around the eyes and mouth. It also must be annoying to the bird, for as the tick expands, it may impair vision or impinge on the bird's own feeding.


Again, with regards to accidentally leaving mouth-parts in the wound,  I have read contradictions. Certain authors maintain that these are just sloughed off by the host in much the same way as a splinter might be. As you can see above I rather mangled this tick when moving it about with the tweezers, trying to get a good close-up but you can clearly see the legs and the tip of the head. As with all questions of potential disease, however, I would suggest that the better the health of the bird at the outset the less chance of infection or illness of any sort. I would also suggest that stress would play a part in this too, so removing the tick as speedily and painlessly as possible could be a factor in a healthy immune response.  In the end it is up to you as an individual, as to how you feel and I would suggest if you are interested you start to research this parasite - it makes for a most interesting read.

See you in Part Two HERE for a step-by-step tick removal.

Thanks for dropping by and if you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also may be about joining this blog. Please also feel free to ask questions or make comments in the section below.

For anyone wishing for links to any of the material I read when researching ticks, please just ask.

All the very best,

Sue
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© 2014 Sue Cross


2 comments:

  1. hi!
    thanks for your writing on this blog--super helpful and also beautiful and inspiring-
    question on ticks: how big does it get after one day/24 hours of blood-sucking? i ask because i go over my animals and birds most days, but sometimes i find one that has attached and yet hasn't enlarged much--therefore hoping no disease was transmitted..? is there a certain ''look'' or amount of swelling present after 24, or 48, hours of blood-sucking?
    thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Hi tuffy, Thanks for your kind words and very interesting question. There is a pictorial chart on tick growth whilst feeding from the University of Rhode Island, here is the link: http://www.tickencounter.org/tick_identification/tick_growth_comparison . Interestingly enough the male feeds only briefly so he shows hardly any increase in size at all. There is a lot of confusion and contradictions concerning ticks as a vector for disease, not in the least because of the decades of research carried out into ticks and other biting insects as biowar instruments. If you are interested in following this up then you could start with, Eric Traub, Operation Paperclip and Plum Island. As regards infection, there is also the link between heavy metals, old wounds/trauma and stress working in synergy with tick born infections. Therefore, if your birds/animals have any issues with these, then it would be worth carrying out some of the natural detox protocols, such as green clay, apple pectin, fibre rich ground vegetables.... In general though, my belief is, that a good healthy organic diet and the best possible low stress environment should keep anything 'nasty' at bay. I certainly have never seen anything develop from the few times my birds have had tick attacks. If you have a significant tick population, you might also think of getting some good predators, such as guinea fowl. Hope this is of some help and all the very best from Normandie, Sue

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