In 2016, I joined the ScandTick project - a large collaboration between Denmark, Norway and Sweden, focusing on ticks and tick-borne disease in Scandinavia. My work included planning, managing and conducting fieldwork in the 3 countries. This was quite a daunting task, as we aimed to measure tick abundance and collect ticks for pathogen testing throughout southern Scandinavia.
We ended up flagging at total of almost 76 km transects and collected 29,440 tick nymphs for pathogen testing. We did all this in 1.5 months, resulting in long workdays and a lot of driving between sites. Below, I have listed some of the lessons I learned and some thoughts I had while conducting fieldwork. Maybe it can help future field workers or at least maybe some people can recognize themselves in this. I worked mainly in Denmark but also went to some sites in Sweden, so my field experiences are based on these two countries.
- Lint rollers are great to get tick larva off the collection flag – and off your clothing. However, the Danish word for lint roller is not the same in Norwegian and Swedish, which led to some confusion.
- Be careful when handling sharp and pointy tweezers – blood on the tick-collecting flag does not look pretty and makes it harder to see the ticks.
- Sweden has horrible insects, much much worse than ticks – look up deer keds! Deer keds rendered me completely hysterical, and I ended up wearing a scarf around my hair along with a cap, walking around waving my arms and screeching like a mad woman.
- If deer keds do get into your hair, they are impossible to wash out – even after showering, I managed to release a few inside a restaurant as they exited my hair. I was mortified!
- Be prepared to fall when you are more focused on finding ticks than looking out for where you step – luckily, you are mostly alone and no one will see you fall or hear you scream!
- Also, not paying attention to where you are going, may result in you walking head-first into a spider web – and then wonder where the spider went, while trying not to freak out.
- Birch trees in Denmark are a great source of ticks, as ticks can usually be found in patches underneath the trees. In Sweden, birch trees are not a great source of ticks as they mainly grow in swampy areas. I found this out by happily running towards them and sinking knee-deep into swamp muck!
- In Denmark, we often stumbled over patches with a large number of ticks, making tick collection easy. This was not the case in Sweden, collecting ticks in the land of the Swedes was much harder – there is no getting lucky in Sweden.
- You can collect ticks in pouring rain, as long as you are ready to change the flag fabric every 5 minutes.
- Keep track of your routes, especially if GPS-reception is poor and you get lost from your vehicle in the pouring rain. I found out the hard way, as I got lost alone in the woods in Sweden.
- Being alone in the woods in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, made me regret watching a plethora of crime- and murder shows. Again, no one will hear you scream!
- Being constantly tired from the long hours and sore from bending down and crawling through the brush, made me oftentimes wonder if I had caught Lyme’s disease. Luckily, I did not but some of my co-workers were not so lucky.
Despite all this, the long days and being tired and sore (and sometimes slightly hysterical), we were privileged to experience the most beautiful areas in Scandinavia. I often had to stop to take it all in and enjoy the amazing Scandinavian nature.
My co-authors and I believe the future is in data sharing, which is why we have made this data public for other researchers to use. We hope that you may find this of use and maybe avoid some of the mistakes we made.
Link to the published article: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41597-020-00579-y
Link to the dataset: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4938270.v1
Lene Jung Kjær