Wave your flag and hunt for ticks

UAntwerp wants you to do scientific research in your own back garden 

The University of Antwerp is looking for volunteers to catch ticks in their own gardens for its new citizen science project Teek a Break ('Tick a break'). This will help researchers find out which types of gardens these parasites prefer. Participants are being asked to create a kind of ‘tick flag’, go on a tick hunt, and then send any captured ticks to the university. A few month later, each participant will receive personalised a tick report on their garden.

Teek a Break is part of the European NorthTick project, whose aim is to find sustainable solutions to the increasing number of infections caused by tick bites. The partners in this European project will formulate recommendations for the further optimisation of prevention and treatment of bites. Gardens are crucial in this regard: in 2019, almost 45% of the tick bites reported on www.tekennet.be occurred in gardens. In addition, there has been an increase in the number of infections with tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease. Although the risk of infection remains rather small, the health consequences can be serious. 

The importance of Teek a Break

This citizen science project is an essential step in the ongoing research into these parasites and their habitats. 'By sending volunteers on tick hunts, we hope to collect a large amount of data', explains biologist Käthe Robert. 'We hope to attract a few hundred volunteers in Flanders. That way, we can map out which gardens contain ticks. A lot of factors come into play: the layout of the garden, how intensively it's managed, the presence of pets or any wild mammals or birds, proximity to a nature reserve or a park, and so on. Schools with some green areas by the playground can also apply, by the way.'

The scientists also want to find out what types of ticks live here, what stage of life they are in, and whether they carry any diseases. Käthe Robert: 'Of course, we also want to increase the general public’s interest in science and nature in general, and in ticks in particular. Everyone immediately thinks of Lyme disease, but biologically speaking, the presence of ticks can also be a good thing. It can be an indication of a garden's natural state, and its biodiversity.'

How can you participate? 

If you want to go on a scientific expedition in your garden, you will need to create a 'tick flag' first. Our step-by-step manual and instructional video will help you to make one in no time, so you can go tick hunting. 'Any ticks you find have to be put in the freezer for a week', explains Käthe Robert. 'Then they have to be sent to the Teek a Break lab. Even if you don't find a single tick, we still want to hear from you. This information is also very important for the project.'

Teek a Break will start on 21 March. No random date: ticks are mainly found in gardens in the period from March to June.