|Image from Figure 1 of the paper|
Over the course of its evolution, A. marginatus has almost completely given up its vampiric life-style of drinking bat blood in favour of... something less glamourous - eating bat droppings. However, they still go through a stage in their life as nymphs when they retain their taste for blood. So how are the nymphs suppose to disperse to a suitable host when their mothers are scrambling around and munching on bat poop? The researchers suggested that A. marginatus facilitates her babies by making regular visits to roosting bats, where the nymphs can disembark and drink all they want.
Indeed, when they brush a nymph-ladened mother tick onto a rabbit's ear, the nymphs quickly jump off and started gorging themselves on blood. However, after three days of chugging down rabbit blood, they died - this is not surprising because as I have discussed in a previous post, blood-feeding parasite can be remarkably picky about their hosts, and for some parasites even a slight host species difference can result in deterioration in survival, let alone the large difference between bats and rabbits. So it was no surprises that those nymphs dropped dead after a few days of imbibing rabbit blood. Back in their natural environment of the bat cave, the next warm-bodied mammal A. marginatus would have off-loaded her nymphs on to would have been roosting bat.
Maternal care has been reported for other arachnids like spiders and scorpions, but not ticks. It is unknown just how unique A. marginatus is among ticks with its maternal behaviours, or if there are many other caring, motherly ticks out there which are just waiting to be discovered.
Labruna MB, Nava S, Guzmán-Cornejo C, Venzal JM. (2012) Maternal Care in the Soft Tick Antricola marginatus. Journal of Parasitology 98: 876-877