As so often happens, it's a chance occurrence that sets one thinking about something which is part of our everyday existence. We live with ticks, not in the sense that they stay indoors with us but that we often come in from a walk or from picking raspberries in the vegetable garden to find we have a passenger. Sometimes we don't notice it until we're having a bath - as happened with this tick, which was latched very firmly onto my leg.
Usually, the ticks we pick up are tiny, sometimes no more than a pinhead across, and black, so we wondered whether this one was a different species. It was much bigger, perhaps 4mm across, and had a dark area on its back, which we now know to be a dorsal shield called the sputum, and seemed to have very long legs. Some research on the internet gave us the answer - it isn't. Only one of the twenty British tick species enjoys human company, and that's Ixodes ricinus, the sheep tick. The one eating me was only different because it was a mature female.
We've not allowed ticks to get this big but the cats have been less lucky. It's the same type of tick, but the body is swollen with the blood drawn off our unfortunate feline.
We've even taken a tick on board while working in the greenhouse. What intrigued us was how they got there as, presumably, they must have been dropped by a mammal, and not even our cats are allowed to disturb the tomatoes. We finally worked it out: we use compost, obtained from a friendly crofter, which comes from mucking out the barn in which her sheep have their lambs.
We have these very clever little machines for removing ticks safely, and they work fine with the bigger ones - the large female tick came off a treat. But even the smaller machine doesn't always work with the tiny ticks.
We're not the only ones who carry the occasional passenger. Look carefully on this bee's back, and you can see something hitching a ride. It probably isn't a tick, but it's obviously living off the bee.
Like everything in nature, we may not like them but ticks are fascinating beasts. The best site for identifying them is here.