Acadia to monitor ticks in all of Atlantic Canada

“Something you don’t want to get is Lyme,” says Dave Shutler, Professor Emeritus in Acadia’s Biology Department. Ticks that carry Lyme disease continue to expand their geographic range, including in Nova Scotia. “Lyme can cause a diversity of symptoms, including muscle aches and arthritis,” Shutler adds. “It is also difficult to diagnose because the bacteria that are responsible elude detection.”

Fortunately, there’s a convenient way to be notified whether the tick you just found might carry Lyme. You upload a photo of the tick to eTick, a popular citizen science portal that tracks tick species and their prevalence across Canada.

Since 2020, a research hub at Acadia University had been identifying ticks for eTick solely from Nova Scotia. This spring, Acadia became the only university that will review and identify uploaded tick photos from all four Atlantic provinces.

Across Nova Scotia last year, 1,804 images of ticks were uploaded to eTick and identified, about 30 percent of which were black-legged ticks that can carry Lyme. Shutler estimates that fewer than 500 additional ticks will be submitted this year from outside Nova Scotia.

View the photo gallery


eTick project 2023



Acadia’s eTick technicians, trained to identify tick species from images, identify ticks whose photographs have been uploaded by members of the public. Technicians then email responses that include the identity of the tick and whether medical concerns are associated with that species, such as black-legged ticks and Lyme disease. At the same time, the information is posted on eTick and goes to the lab at Bishop’s University, where eTick information from across Canada is collected, pooled, and used in research.

“If you’re notified that a tick you submit to eTick could carry Lyme, you should immediately contact your doctor to begin treatment with antibiotics,” Shutler says.

Katie King (BSc Hons ’23), a fourth-year biology student, has been an Acadia eTick technician since the end of her first year and is one of three eTick technicians at Acadia. They will soon be joined by a fourth. “Being part of the eTick project is really exciting,” she says. “I’m learning about citizen science and about parasitology and seeing new opportunities to follow.”

King, who is returning to Acadia next fall to do her master’s degree, chose Acadia partly because of its location – she lives in the Annapolis Valley – but also because of Acadia’s large selection of ecology-based biology courses. She was in Shutler’s intro class. “Acadia’s small class sizes mean you get to know your professors, and they get to know you and can consider you for opportunities such as eTick,” she says. “The opportunity to get involved in eTick was because of how Acadia runs things.”


eTick was started in 2014 by Jade Savage at Bishop’s University, and she has since enlisted participation from all provinces and territories. The Bishop’s eTick program is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada through the Infectious Diseases and Climate Change Fund.

In 2019, Savage approached Shutler and Kirk Hillier to field a team at Acadia to identify ticks. This year, Laura Ferguson and Nicoletta Faraone have joined Shutler and Hillier’s supervisory team just as Acadia is taking over all tick identifications for the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador (see brief bios and research interests of eTick researchers below).

Anyone can visit and explore the rich database, which can be viewed on an interactive map or searched by different criteria including location, tick species, and time of year found. Visitors to the site can also enquire about uses researchers can make of the data.

“It would be extremely inefficient and prohibitively expensive to have government agencies monitor Lyme,” Shutler says. “But by having citizens upload their tick images to eTick, a huge and valuable resource is generated. The reward for participant citizens is that trained technicians rapidly tell them if the tick they found could carry Lyme.”

A free mobile application can be downloaded from the eTick homepage.

eTick Researchers

Dave Shutler, Professor Emeritus, Biology Department. Shutler’s active research projects include bee diseases and reproductive ecology of tree swallows and of Leach’s storm-petrels.

Kirk Hillier, Professor, Biology Department, and Director of the Insect NeuroScience and Ecology CenTre at Acadia (INSECTA). Hillier’s lab’s research is focused on olfactory processing and relationships between odours and an animal’s behaviour, particularly insect behaviour.

Laura Ferguson, Assistant Professor, Biology Department. Ferguson is an integrative biologist interested in how host-microbe interactions shape insect resilience. One focus is on mosquitoes and ticks, working towards understanding how their ability to resist and transmit disease will shift with climate change.

Nicoletta Faraone, Assistant Professor in Biochemistry, Chemistry Department. Faraone’s research interests include natural products, chemical ecology of ticks, bioactive molecules, bio-pesticides, and pest management.


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