Turns out ticks may be good for something

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Friday, August 16, 2013 2:13pm
  • Life

I don’t know even one tick lover, but if there are any hanging out in the shadows, here’s a reason to speak up in their defense:

Tick spit.

Researchers have been studying tick saliva. Before you utter the words “wasteful government spending,” hear me out.

There’s a link between a protein found in the tick spit of ixodes ticks (black-legged ticks, sometimes called deer ticks) that might help fight heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

These ticks tear into the skin and feed on blood, damaging small blood vessels in the process. Normally, when blood vessels are damaged, the blood coagulates to stop the bleeding.

When these ticks bite their host, they spit. In that spit is a protein that blocks the body’s natural clotting process, according to the AHA. That’s the same goal as human-made blood thinners.

Researchers explain that clotting factor X and factor V are blocked by tick spit but somehow cooperate to activate another clotting element, which eventually kicks in.

That new model of clotting may lead to new drugs that could help prevent strokes and heart attacks.

While ticks may have won the hearts of researchers, they haven’t won my heart. I grew up in Maryland, and one of my lasting memories is of my father patiently picking blood-swollen ticks off one collie or another, setting them down on a piece of concrete, lighting a match and frying the head of the tick.

As an adult, if I found ticks on my body, they went down the toilet. I admit to a certain perverse satisfaction while watching ticks swirl round and round before being sucked out of sight, never to return.

Some people put their tick-bearing clothes in the dryer on high heat, but the Centers for Disease Control reports that only works if you leave the dryer on for at least an hour.

I have visions of pulling out tickless clothes, but having ticks turn up on towels and underwear days later.

I’ve heard that there’s another way to murder a tough-to-kill tick, although I haven’t tried it. If it works for you, let me know.

Get a resealable plastic baggie. Put the tick in the baggie. Seal it. Put the bag in the microwave for 15 seconds. Somewhere near the end, you may hear a pop. Dispose of the dead tick neatly in the body bag.

Ain’t technology wonderful?

Glaciers and volcanoes: Local experts in natural history share their insights during the Heather Meadows guest speaker series.

Aug. 24, 1 p.m.: North Cascades National Park expert Jon Riedel will talk about the constant changes on the glacier slopes of the peaks.

Aug. 31, 1 p.m.: Western Washington University’s Dave Tucker discusses the geologic histories in the Heather Meadows area.

The programs are free on weekends through Sept. 21 at the Heather Meadows Visitor Information Center at milepost 54 on the Mount Baker Highway.

Boogie on: Humans do it. Parrots do it. And now a sea lion has gotten into the act.

Research published by the American Psychological Association showed that an animal incapable of vocal mimicry can keep a beat in time to music.

Ronan, a 3-year-old California sea lion, was trained to bob her head in time with the beat of a simplified section of “Down on the Corner” before being tested with “Everybody” and “Boogie Wonderland.”

Ronan kept the beat from her first exposure to the songs, according to the study, including the five tempos of “Boogie Wonderland.”

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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