Attraction of the tropical bont tick, Amblyomma variegatum, to human breath and to the breath components acetone, NO and CO2

Naturwissenschaften. 2002 Jul;89(7):311-5. doi: 10.1007/s00114-002-0317-z.


Ticks are of medical and veterinary importance and employ several cues in search of a host. Olfaction is one modality by which ticks locate a blood-meal and breath is the major vent of gaseous and volatile metabolites from the host that could contribute to this search. We studied the responses of a hunter tick, Amblyomma variegatum, to diluted human breath and five of its components (acetone, CO2, NO, isoprene and NH3) while walking in an air stream on a locomotion compensator. Diluted breath elicited the greatest responses of all treatments in terms of time to onset of upwind walk, attraction, speed and local search behaviour after stimulus off. Acetone, NO and CO2 also attracted, but with a reduced speed in the case of acetone and NO. Neither isoprene nor NH3 induced any response. Our study indicates that breath was the most adequate stimulus tested. It also attracted two other ixodid tick species, Rhipicephalus sanguineus and Ixodes ricinus, as well as the argasid tick, Ornithodorus moubata. It appears that the evolution of resource tracking in ticks included sensory and behavioural adaptations for recognition and orientation to host metabolites that are regularly expelled in breath.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetone / analysis*
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis*
  • Chemotactic Factors / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Ixodidae / physiology*
  • Motor Activity
  • Nitric Oxide / analysis*
  • Respiration*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*


  • Chemotactic Factors
  • Acetone
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Nitric Oxide