Monday, June 7, 2010


I apologize for the lack of header photo on today's post, my lovelies. I forgot my camera at home today, and thus was unable to capture sublime images of the cerrado for you to enjoy. There is a picture in this post, but because of its semi-graphic nature, I'm going to bury it below the fold. For the squeamish, stop reading here, enjoy your cup of coffee that hasn't inexplicably been brewed in a high-molarity sugar solution, and spend the rest of your day secure in the knowledge that in suburban America, we lead a gloriously parasite-free existence. For the curious, read on, and behold the aftermath of... 


Oh, the arachnidae! 

What is a 'tick bomb,' you ask? Why, let me illustrate for you with this conveniently-highlighted diagram. Each ridiculous, oversized bright red circle marks the location of a tick bite -- or, rather, the locations where the tick bite is still visible (not visible are bites where the tick was removed too soon to leave a visible welt, or that are, you know, not actually in the frame). 

The first things one notices about this 'tick bomb' are the impressive 1) number, 2) density, and 3) localization of the bites . (1) is not too difficult to understand when you've been busting through underbrush all day, though it is a little horrifying. One could easily imagine a leisurely walk through the woods, picking up a tick here, a tick there, in some sort of Poisson-distributed fashion, and then coming with a hundred or so new friends. (2) starts to get a little suspicious, though, particularly when viewed in light of (3), which starts calling the Poisson-distributed-hypothesis into serious question. 

No, observation suggests an alternative hypothesis, in which literally thousands of the hook-armed little bloodsuckers hang out at a single conveniently shin, thigh, or midriff-level location, get out the bridge deck, and shoot the breeze while waiting for an enormous, pasty-white bag of food to come stumbling by. At that point, apparently, they are all fired out of some sort of cannon, head-first, into said pasty-white walking lunchtruck. Upon arrival, most waste no time in getting down to business, leaving the characteristic shotgun-blast pattern of calling-cards. If that were that, things wouldn't be so bad, since said localization leaves you with a diverse set of cleanup options: belt sanding, acid bath, amputation, etc. There seem to be a good compliment of intrepid tick explorers in every bunch, however, which show a particular enthusiasm for regions not generally accessible without a mirror. 

It's not really so bad. They are quite small, and, miraculously, don't carry any diseases (take that, so-called first-world Lyme, CT!). If you have fast reaction times, a propensity for self-examination in the field, and duct tape, you can even clean up the majority of a 'bomb' before it digs in. As I currently possess none of those, I've been spending a bit of time recently in front of the mirror. Fortunately, I have at my disposal something like $300 worth of laboratory-grade tweezers. 

I'll try to keep a running tick-tally for your edification. My current estimate, for three days in the field, stands at something like 100. So let's half that, and start the counter at fifty. Hooray for science!


hope said...

holy goodness! cant your gators protect you against those things? what about a life size net? if it were me, id at least wear a net over my head to prevent any scalp or face risks!!!
but overall, sounds exciting, a real wilderness adventure!

hope said...

ps - would love to see a picture of a tick up close if possible. So you literally pulled 51 of them off of you? What do you do with them after pulling them out?
Also, I forgot to comment that i think it's super cool that you saw a toucan! And armadillo holes!

Jon Sanders said...

Thanks for stopping by, Hope! I'll try and get a picture next one I meet -- when I got 'the bomb' I was pretty focused on removing them over all else! Next time, though, I will exercise restraint for purposes of fun and education. These ones in particular really are pretty tiny; we'll see how well that 100mm macro really does...

Gil said...

At least they're not spiders.