Natural insensitivity and the effects of concentration on the repellency and survival of American dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) by DEET

Abstract

N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) is by far the most used repellent worldwide. When applied topically to the skin, the active ingredient has been shown to provide protection from a variety of hematophagous insects, including mosquitoes and flies. DEET’s effectiveness against ticks is influenced by a variety of factors (e.g., duration and concentration of application, drying time, route of exposure, tick species and developmental stage), and may differ from insects due to their unique chemosensory system that primarily involves the Haller’s organ. We therefore used several approaches to investigate DEET’s efficacy to repel Dermacentor variabilis at different concentrations (5, 30 or 75%), as well as explore its toxicological properties and natural variability in DEET insensitivity across populations from Manitoba, Canada. Climbing bioassays indicated that higher concentrations of DEET were more effective at repelling D. variabilis, and that ticks from some sampling localities were more sensitive to lower concentrations than others. Petri dish arena assays revealed ticks exposed to high concentrations of the repellent lose their ability to discriminate lower concentrations, perhaps due to overstimulation or habituation. Finally, our tactile assays demonstrated reduced tick survival after contact with high DEET concentrations, with mortality occurring more rapidly with increased concentration. Dermacentor variabilis from these tactile assays displayed a multitude of physiological and neurological symptoms, such as ‘hot foot’ and various bodily secretions. Overall, our study shows a strong association between repellency, concentration and the acaricidal effects of DEET on D. variabilis.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Dr. Alex Koiter for assistance with R software. We are grateful to Patrick Gohl, Ivan Drahun and Jessica Sparrow their assistance with tick collections. This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grants Program awarded to Bryan Cassone (RGPIN-2016-04335). Figures 1 and 3 were created with BioRender.com.

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Conceptualization: BJC and CWK; Data curation: BJC and CWK; Formal analysis: PLR and CWK; Funding acquisition: BJC; Methodology: BJC, CAMD, PLR and CWK; Software: PLR and CWK; Supervision: BJC; Writing: BJC and CWK; Writing—review & editing: BJC, CAMD, PLR and CWK.

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Correspondence to Bryan J. Cassone.

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Koloski, C.W., Duncan, C.A.M., Rutherford, P.L. et al. Natural insensitivity and the effects of concentration on the repellency and survival of American dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) by DEET. Exp Appl Acarol 82, 379–395 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10493-020-00550-x

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Keywords

  • Ixodida
  • Behavior
  • Laboratory bioassays
  • Acaricidal effect
  • Electron microscopy