Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Frontiers in Zoology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Are ticks venomous animals?

Alejandro Cabezas-Cruz12 and James J Valdés3*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Infection and Immunity of Lille (CIIL), INSERM U1019 – CNRS UMR 8204, Université Lille Nord de France, Institut Pasteur de Lille, Lille, France

2 SaBio. Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Cinegéticos, IREC-CSIC-UCLM-JCCM, Ciudad Real 13005, Spain

3 Institute of Parasitology, Biology Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, České Budějovice, 37005, Czech Republic

For all author emails, please log on.

Frontiers in Zoology 2014, 11:47  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-11-47

Published: 1 July 2014

Abstract

Introduction

As an ecological adaptation venoms have evolved independently in several species of Metazoa. As haematophagous arthropods ticks are mainly considered as ectoparasites due to directly feeding on the skin of animal hosts. Ticks are of major importance since they serve as vectors for several diseases affecting humans and livestock animals. Ticks are rarely considered as venomous animals despite that tick saliva contains several protein families present in venomous taxa and that many Ixodida genera can induce paralysis and other types of toxicoses. Tick saliva was previously proposed as a special kind of venom since tick venom is used for blood feeding that counteracts host defense mechanisms. As a result, the present study provides evidence to reconsider the venomous properties of tick saliva.

Results

Based on our extensive literature mining and in silico research, we demonstrate that ticks share several similarities with other venomous taxa. Many tick salivary protein families and their previously described functions are homologous to proteins found in scorpion, spider, snake, platypus and bee venoms. This infers that there is a structural and functional convergence between several molecular components in tick saliva and the venoms from other recognized venomous taxa. We also highlight the fact that the immune response against tick saliva and venoms (from recognized venomous taxa) are both dominated by an allergic immunity background. Furthermore, by comparing the major molecular components of human saliva, as an example of a non-venomous animal, with that of ticks we find evidence that ticks resemble more venomous than non-venomous animals. Finally, we introduce our considerations regarding the evolution of venoms in Arachnida.

Conclusions

Taking into account the composition of tick saliva, the venomous functions that ticks have while interacting with their hosts, and the distinguishable differences between human (non-venomous) and tick salivary proteins, we consider that ticks should be referred to as venomous ectoparasites.

Keywords:
Ticks; Venom; Secreted proteins; Toxicoses; Pathogens; Convergence