Background: Ticks and tick-borne diseases are increasing in many areas of Europe and North America due to climate change, while land use and the increased abundances of large hosts play a more controversial role. The pattern of host selection involves a crucial component for tick abundance. While the larvae and nymphs feed on a wide range of different sized hosts, the adult female ticks require blood meal from a large host (>1 kg), typically a deer, to fulfil the life cycle. Understanding the role of different hosts for abundances of ticks is therefore important, and also the extent to which different life stages attach to large hosts.
Findings: We studied attachment site selection of life stages of I. ricinus ticks on a main large host in Europe, the red deer (Cervus elaphus). We collected from 33 felled red deer pieces of skin from five body parts: leg, groin, neck, back and ear. We counted the number of larval, nymphal, adult male and adult female ticks. Nymphs (42.2%) and adult (48.7%) ticks dominated over larvae (9.1%). There were more larvae on the legs (40.9%), more nymphs on the ears (83.7%), while adults dominated in the groins (89.2%) and neck (94.9%).
Conclusions: Large mammalian hosts are thus a diverse habitat suitable for different life stages of ticks. The attachment site selection reflected the life stages differing ability to move. The spatial separation of life stages may partly limit the role of deer in co-feeding transmission cycles.
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