You are here

Automated Tick Collecting Device




OBJECTIVE: To develop a self-propelled (automated) tick collection device that is capable of operating in diverse habitats under various environmental conditions.

DESCRIPTION: In many parts of the world, tick-borne diseases pose serious health risks to troops, civilian employees, and residents at military installations. To mitigate the threat of tick-borne disease, preventive medicine personnel monitor tick vectors and implement control strategies. Surveillance (monitoring) for changes in the abundance and activity of host-seeking ticks is critical to assess public health risk for tick-borne pathogens like Lyme disease. Tick surveillance should employ efficient collection methods that accurately assess population and species diversity, as well as prevalence and intensity of infection with tick–associated pathogens.

Host detection and attachment by ticks is achieved through three main behavioral patterns: questing (stationary ambush), hunting (active movement towards host) and tick-host cohabitation. Tick collection methods used by Military Preventive Medicine can be divided into three major categories: (1) dragging; (2) trapping using carbon dioxide (CO2); and (3) collecting directly from hosts. Dragging is considered the standard method for collecting questing ticks on vegetation, and approximates human biting risks. Dragging involves moving a piece of flannel or cotton across vegetation behind the collector and allowing ticks to attach to the cloth as it passes. There are several important issues associated with the dragging method: (1) it is labor intensive, which negatively affects the sampling effort (total area/distance covered and duration of the sampling period), (2) it exposes the collector to potentially infected ticks, and (3) it only samples ticks (mainly adults) that quest on the upper layer of vegetation. The CO2 tick sampling method utilizes dry ice (CO2) which serves as bait to attract actively host-seeking ticks of all life stages (larvae, nymphs and adults) to a collection site proximate to the CO2 source. Because this method is stationary, it is not as restricted by vegetation type and density. Additionally, CO2 reduces the sampling effort, but also has the additional logistical problems of CO2 source acquisition, transport and storage. Furthermore, tick species vary in their responsiveness to CO2 with some species responding strongly (Amblyomma hebraeum ); moderately (Ixodes scapularis (Lyme disease vector)); or poorly (Dermacentor variabilis (Rocky mountain spotted fever vector))(Sonenshine, 1993). Host-based sampling typically involves trapping wild animals or sampling from fresh carcasses. The advantage of this method is that the preferred hosts can be sensitive collectors of ticks at low densities. Disadvantages of this method are that it is labor intensive, requires worker protection measures, difficult to obtain large sample sizes, inconsistency in collection between workers, and requirements for animal handling approval (Cohnstaedt et al. 2012).

The purpose of this project is to develop a novel tick surveillance device to perform surveillance on medically important tick species such as Dermacentor variabilis (transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever), Ixodes scapularis (transmits Lyme disease) and Dermacentor marginatus (transmits Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever). The ideal product will be well suited for Preventive Medicine deployment packages and more effective than current collection methods.

Specific objective for this product are as follows:

    1. Should be able to traverse through diverse tick habitats (shrubs, weeds, short and tall grasses) via remote control or automated programing.
      • Continuous and point sampling (device programming options)
        • Continuous mode should have an operation time for at least 45 minutes
        • Point sampling mode (example: Stationary sampling for 3 hours at one location then move to next sampling point location) should have an operation time for at least 8 hours
      • Exact and random sampling (device programming options)
      • Adjustable speed (1-5 mph)
      • Have an internal GPS that reports the device movements to a mobile device
    1. Needs to be able to collect questing and non-questing ticks
      • Have an attachable flag port. An attachable flag made of flannel or Velcro can be used to collect questing ticks (Continuous sampling)
      • Have a compartment to collect non-questing ticks that are attracted to a bait (CO2)
        • The compartment should be able to hold the collected ticks and keep them alive
        • The compartment should have a sensor that counts the ticks as they enter the trap
      • Collect a minimum of 10 ticks from infested habitat
    1. Capable of carrying a minimum of 1kg of dry-ice (CO2)
      • Device should provide insulation for the dry ice
      • Gas from the dry-ice should be release from the device into the environment at a rate ranging from 200-350 ml/min.
    1. The device should not exceed a weight of 30 lbs.
      • Needs to be portable and not require and external power source
      • Easy to operate, maintain and setup

PHASE I: This phase of the SBIR should focus on developing the initial concept and design for the tick surveillance trap. Phase I proposals should demonstrate the likelihood that an effective autonomous tick sampling device can be developed that meets the broad needs discussed in this topic.

PHASE II: During the Phase II portion of this SBIR, the awardee should develop the prototype design. Once the initial prototype is developed, it should be tested in both laboratory and field environments for efficacy in collecting medically important ticks as described in the specific project objectives above. At the conclusion of Phase II, the awardee should have developed a prototype that is able to collect host-seeking and questing ticks from tick infested habitats. Specific expectations for the product are outlined above.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: During this phase the selected contractor will finalize the design of a production model and commercialize the desired device.

Military Application: The developed product will be used by Military Preventive Medicine personnel operating in the continental United States and deployed environments around the world. The selected contractor should provide a report that summarizes the performance of the tick collecting device to the Armed Forces Pest Management Board (AFPMB) and a request for assignment of a National Stock Number (NSN) to this device.

Commercial Applications: The proposed SBIR has commercial applications outside of the military. In order to increase marketability, this device should be modified for indoor use and made capable of collecting bedbugs as well. Bedbug control is very expensive and often requires multiple treatments. These issues and the additional problem of pesticide resistance, makes alternatives such as the proposed trap attractive to the pest management industry. Furthermore, a novel tick collecting device as such as this would be of great value to organizations involved in tick epidemiology and research. Examples are University and Industry Entomologist, Vector Control Districts, Vector Biologist, Vector Ecologist, and Public Health agencies.


  • Cohnstaedt, L., Rochon, K., Duehl, A., Anderson, J., Barrera, R., Su, N., Gerry, A., Obenauer, P., Campbell, J., Lysyk, T., and Allan, S. 2012. Arthropod Surveillance Programs: Basic Components, Strategies, and Analysis. Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 105(2): 135 – 149
  • Armed Forces Pest Management Board (AFPMB) Technical Guide 26,

KEYWORDS: Tick, trap, robot, drone, CO2, vector, surveillance, Lyme

US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government