The Great 2017 Texas Tick Drag Procedures


“Reader’s Digest” Version

  1. Drag flannel cloth through likely tick habitat (tall grass and underbrush near trees and other wild animal habitat) – stop about every 30 seconds
  2. Visually inspect for ticks – if none, continue or move to “better” location
  3. If ticks observed, use lint roller (easy) to collect all ticks, nymphs, and larvae off drag cloth – one roller tape per stop
  4. Peel tape and insert in “Ziploc” type sandwich bag with a cotton ball moistened – but not dripping wet – with isopropyl alcohol.
  5. Apply serial number label to bag or tube.
  6. Take picture of bag (so we can see serial number) and drag area using smartphone with location services turned on.  If you do multiple bags in one large area, you can wait and take one picture showing all bags and collection area.
  7. E-mail picture(s) to (### is the number your group was assigned)
  8. Place (do not stuff or crush) samples in provided Priority Mail box, or larger container if needed to avoid crushing ticks
  9. Affix mailing label provided and drop off at any post office.  There is nothing hazardous, liquid, or fragile if they ask at the postal window.  “Bug samples going to the lab”

Simple right?  Please do take the time to read the more detailed instructions below.  Because this is part of a scientific study, it is critical to have proper procedures and documentation or your samples can not be used.

Detailed Version – Please read

If participants are wearing bug spray of any kind, the drag cloth should be suspended between two participants walking at least three feet on either side of the drag path so that ticks will not be deterred from attaching to the cloth.  Dr. Esteve-Gassent of A&M recommends DEET-based bug spray if used.

Whether or not bug spray is being worn, careful tick check procedures should be observed throughout the event – just as they should be any time you are in a grassy or wooded area.

“Leave No Trace” should be observed during the tick drag. In other words, leave the chosen tick drag location exactly how you found it…minus a few ticks of course!  Non-dragging participants should definitely not be trampling ahead or behind of the drag path.  It is not necessary to go into particularly dense underbrush to have a successful drag.  Just go where, or beside, where you would normally go in the outdoors.

When to perform a tick drag?

  • Best done in daylight hours after vegetation has dried off from morning dew or earlier rains
  • 45F to 80F
  • Not raining (ticks don’t hang out in the rain, and wet cloth does not pick up ticks anyway)

How to dress when performing a tick drag

  • Long pants/long sleeves – absolutely no shorts when walking in brush
  • Crew Socks – absolutely no “no show” or anklet socks.  Socks must be long enough to tuck pants in socks.  This helps protect the participant from tick exposure during the tick drags.   Tucking pant legs into socks and then duct taping is the best method.  For extra protection, fold over the last wrap of duct tape so that the sticky side is exposed.  This will trap ticks crawling up from the shoes.  A piece of duct tape should be placed over the laces opening on shoes.
  • Wear a hat preferably with a wide brim.  This helps protect your head from exposure to ticks if you are near trees.  Ticks attach by dropping on or being brushed on to a passing host. Ticks are especially hard to find on the head.  Hats, especially wide brimmed hats as opposed to ball caps, help protect the head and neck from ticks dropping off tall brush or trees.

How to put your tick drag together

  1. Attach the drag cloth (3-4 feet wide and 4-5 feet long, white or cream flannel or corduroy) around a pole, walking stick, or piece of 1/2″ PVC pipe using either safety pins to create a pocket, or duct tape.
  2. Attach rope to both sides of the pole so that the cloth can be drug at ground level pulled by one person.  This method should NOT be used if the dragger is using bug spray as they will walk through the area before the drag cloth arrives and fewer ticks will be collected.

Alternatively, you can use a longer piece of rope alone which two people can stretch across the drag area.  The rope should be long enough that draggers can comfortably hold the leading edge nearly flat to the ground without having to bend over.  The rope we provide in the tick drag kits is long enough for this purpose.  Just insert the safety pins through the rope  so that the cloth will stay stretched out while dragging.  No pole is necessary using this method.  

How to perform a tick drag

To conduct a tick drag, walk at a normal pace dragging the cloth behind you or alternatively between two of you.  You want to keep the drag as flat as possible against the surveyed area.  You should check your drag approximately every 30 seconds.  If you wait longer you could risk having ticks fall off.  You can work in a grid like pattern or in any convenient direction such as along a formal path or animal track.  

You may alsoflag” low-lying bushes and other vegetation by waving the cloth across them.  While you are looking for ticks, don’t forget to also look for – and avoid – poison oak, poison ivy, and poison sumac.  If the drag cloth goes through a patch of poison ivy it is possible to develop a rash from then touching the cloth.  See and avoid.

If the back end of your cloth is flipping up or bouncing off the drag area, try tying small rocks in each of the back corners of the cloth to prevent this from happening.

Here is a video link for an example of a tick drag:  Note – do not use the technique of cutting the top of the tube mentioned in this video as this will make it impossible to ship sealed with alcohol.

How to remove ticks from the cloth

  • Use disposable gloves (nitrile gloves provided in kit) when possible
  • The hard way: Use tweezers to remove the ticks by grasping as close to the head of the tick as possible, and detach the tick with a steady pull away from the cloth.
    • DO NOT jerk or twist the tick – this will dislodge the head of the tick and we need this part for analysis and classification.
    • Do not crush the tick during detachment as this makes the DNA unusable and the tick unidentifiable
    • Drop the tick in one of the provided vials and close lid, remember to tap vial each time you open to keep ticks down while dropping new ticks in (not fun!)
    • Nymphs and larva can not be picked up in this manner as the tweezers will crush them no matter how careful you are.  We recommend just using “the easy way.”
    • Once you have completed a vial, insert a cotton ball moistened (not dripping wet) with alcohol at the top and seal.
  • The easy way: Ticks can also be removed from the cloth using a lint roller (provided in kit) to pick them up. The easiest method for collecting nymphs and larvae is using this sticky tape method.   You may also still need tweezers to remove adult ticks that just don’t want to let go of the cloth.  You may use a plastic bag to store the ticks during your walk and place them in the vials after.  Make sure to mark each vial or bag with the appropriate location information.  
  • Moisten (wet, not dripping wet!) a cotton ball and place in the ziploc bag with the tape.  Gently remove excess air from bag while sealing the bag taking care not to crush the contents.  If you are getting lots of ticks on each roller tape, four or five sample spots should be fine.  However, feel free to sample as much as you like – the more the better.
  • Do not put sticky sides of tape together as this will destroy samples.  Tape back to back is fine.
  • Label containers with YOUR ASSIGNED DRAG CODE if they were not pre-labeled in your kit.  You must e-mail to get a code to utilize simplified documentation.  Without proper documentation, your sample will be worthless to A&M and can not be included in the study.  
  • Sample bag/tube labels are included in each kit.  If you have more samples than labels – GREAT!  Just use the enclosed Sharpee marker to continue the numbering scheme on your additional samples.
    • By using simplified documentation, all you need to do is take a picture of each drag site with a “Location Enabled” smartphone (iPhone, Android) and e-mail (not SMS/MMS, email) each picture back to (### is your assigned location code).  The GPS, date, and time information embedded in the photo will be used to self-document the samples.  Comparing the data in the emails to the codes on the vials will allow A&M to properly record data for their study.  Please include comments about temperature and weather at your location if possible.  Your picture should show the collection location for each vial looking back across the drag area.
    • Do not collect if raining.
    • Ticks from the same location can be pooled in one single container.  The goal is lots of bugs, not lots of sample containers.
    • If you are unable to use the smartphone method of simple documentation, please send an email to (### is your assigned location code) and include the following:
      • Date of collection
      • Time of collection  (10AM to 11AM, not necessarily the exact time of each sample)
      • Weather (60F, partially cloudy, etc.) – do not collect when raining
      • Location as exactly as you can describe e.g. “San Saba County, Colorado Bend State Park, Campsite 36, low brush in tree line” or “Tarrant County, Colleyville Nature Center in tree line by pond”
    • The smartphone documentation method is much easier!
    • Regardless of whether you are using the smartphone or manual location recording method, it is very important that you also include the number of participants in your group and how many minutes (45 minutes, 1 hour, 90 minutes, etc.) was spent on the activity.  This allows us to track volunteer hours.  Boy Scout Troops – all participants should receive credit for volunteer hours, rounded up to the closest 15 minutes, for this activity as long as they were present during the drag.

How to record your location with your camera

As long as you regularly use maps and other apps which utilize your smartphone’s built in GPS, the camera app will include GPS information with the data in each picture.  YOU MUST HAVE LOCATION SERVICES ENABLED FOR SIMPLIFIED DOCUMENTATION.  This is usually just as simple as going to your settings, scrolling to “Location” or “Location Services” and making sure they are turned on.  It makes no difference whether you select GPS or GPS/WiFi as most campsites do not have WiFi anyway!

Once you are sure location services are enabled, make sure your phone is well-charged at the start of the tick drag!  Having a backup person with a smartphone is not a bad idea.

As you complete each location take a picture of the vial or bag at the end of the collection point.  For instance, if you have five vials and two Ziploc bags, you will end up with seven pictures.  Email the pictures to

After our Great 2017 Texas Tick Drag what do I do?

  • Dispose of Tick Drag cloth in trash bag or, better still, use the cloth as kindling for your evening campfire.  DO NOT STAND DOWNWIND OF THE SMOKE just in case the cloth touched poison oak, ivy, or sumac.
  • Check each person thoroughly who assisted with the tick drag – you can use the lint roller, a tent brush (you do brush out your tents, don’t you?) or whisk broom to completely brush off your clothes.  This is a good practice for Scouts even if you are not doing a tick drag!
  • Remember to do your “tick check” before turning in for the night.  If all else fails and you notice an attached tick or tick bite site after you get home, contact your doctor with any concerns.
  • Ship ticks on the next business day via the enclosed shipping shipping envelope using the provided label.  
  • Make sure you have included alcohol moistened cotton balls in each bag or container.
  • Place all sample bags (and tubes if used) into the large Ziploc bag which the kit was shipped in.  Leave just enough air in the bag to provide cushioning in the shipping envelope but do not “inflate” the bag.
  • If you wish to help by paying the approximately $8 postage which be charged to us if you use the Merchandise Return mailing label, then ship the kit to:

Maria D. Esteve-Gassent, PhD
College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Texas A&M University
VMA316, TAMU-4467
College Station TX    77843

Use a USPS 11×15 Priority Mail Envelope (not Priority Express, not Priority Mail Flat Rate) from your local post office or you can use your own container as long as the samples are not crushed.

See the Ticks in Texas page for help identifying ticks versus other bugs you might collect on your drag.  Don’t worry about sorting or classifying bugs, that will be done at A&M.  It’s just fun to know what you “drag up” during the activity!  A magnifying glass is included in all kits.

Supplies included in Kit (or suggested if building your own kit)

  1. Disposable  Nitrile Gloves (we ship medium gloves in kit)
  2. Plastic testing vials marked with drag code or alternate labeling as described above – use these for ticks which may have attached to humans or large numbers of ticks collected with tweezers (N/A if building your own kit)
  3. White “diaper flannel” or corduroy cloth approximately 3′ x 5′
  4. Cotton balls to use with rubbing alcohol to preserve samples
  5. Tweezers (
  6. Tape lint roller
  7. Rope to attach to pole
  8. Shipping materials to lab (pick up a “Priority Mail Mailing Envelope” – NOT the flat rate or express envelope, the large 11×15 “Tyvek” envelope)
  9. Instructions for tick drag (or print this page if building your own kit)
  10. Magnifying Glass (useful if using the tweezer method instead of the easy tape lint roller method)
  11. Cotton balls (10 – 15) for moistening with alcohol to preserve samples
  12. “Ziploc” type sandwich bags (10 – 15) for shipping lint roller tapes (1 tape per bag)
  13. Plastic Trash Bag for discarding cloth and other supplies at end of drag
  14. Extra large plastic “Ziploc” freezer bag used to ship kit to contain sample bags on return

Materials that need to be obtained by participant.  

  1. 70%-80% isopropyl or rubbing alcohol to preserve ticks in transit
  2. Pole or walking stick if doing single person drag
  3. Duct Tape to tape pants and shoelace opening, attach cloth to pole if not using safety pins, and other stuff duct tape is good for
  4. Smartphone with camera if using simplified documentation (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED & PREFERRED)


Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.  Use of these methods may cause the tick to regurgitate or lead to incomplete removal which can cause infection.

Clipart image showing how to remove an embedded tick with a pair of tweezers.
  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  4. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.