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Tick sucking blood from human leg

Ashley Prytherch

Download this image from Wellcome Collection.

Photograph of a tick burrowing its feeding parts into the skin of the photographer's own leg. Ticks are related to mites and spiders, and at least 20 species live across the UK. They like humid conditions and can be found in wooded areas, tall grasses, urban parks, fields and at the edges of lawns or meadows. Ticks feed on the blood of other animals. If a tick picks up an infection from the blood of an animal it is feeding on, it can pass that infection on to the next animal or human it bites. Examples of diseases spread to humans in this way include Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. This tick is approximately 2.5 mm long.

What is the story behind this image?

After looking for signs of life in his garden pond, Ashley went for an early morning swim. He noticed something black sticking out of his leg that could not be brushed off, and remembered seeing something similar the previous year, which when brushed off left a lot of blood and caused his ankle to swell and almost double in size. Ashley photographed the black protrusion using a macro lens in order to take a closer look and see in detail what was sticking out of his leg. This was followed by a trip to the hospital, where it took 20 minutes to remove the tick.

Why did the judges like this image?

Adam Rutherford, science writer and broadcaster, said: "This is such a dramatic image, but weirdly comical, not least to do with the scale - it takes a moment to realise just were this tick is - but also the fact that it looks like it's rifling through a bin. Scientifically, it shows quite how invasive these parasites can be, and throws light on transmissible parasitic diseases. The tick displays such casual disregard for the boundary between us and the rest of the natural world, much of which wants to eat us."