CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The 35th Insect Fear Film Festival will focus on a creature that is important for humans to understand but that is not actually an insect at all.
Ticks are arachnids, a class of arthropods that includes spiders, scorpions and ticks’ closest relative, mites. As such, full-grown ticks have eight legs rather than the six legs of insects, and no antennae. They may engender more fear than most insects, though. Ticks are best-known as vectors for Lyme disease.
“I thought ticks were a good topic because there is a distinct knowledge gap about them, despite their importance as disease vectors,” said May Berenbaum, the founder of the film festival and an entomology professor and department head. “It’s really important to know about them for both safeguarding your own health and for informing legislation. There is a lot of interest in reducing incidences of tick-borne diseases.”
The 2018 Insect Fear Film Festival – “Ticks” – will be Feb. 24 at the University of Illinois.
The film festival will feature the 1993 movie “Ticks,” as well as two TV episodes featuring ticks and a petting zoo with live ticks in containers.
Image courtesy University of Illinois department of entomology
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Ticks are great multitaskers, Berenbaum said. They can transmit pathogens ranging from viruses to bacteria to protozoa. As global vectors, they spread a variety of diseases across the world, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever. Most are not host-specific, meaning they’ll feed on multiple species of mammals, birds or even reptiles.
But a few are very specific, Berenbaum said. The world’s smallest tick feeds only on a species of shrew, while the world’s largest – the sloth’s giant tick – feeds only on sloths and is golf ball-sized when fully engorged.
Berenbaum noted that the first century Roman author Pliny the Elder, in his book “Natural History,” described ticks as “the foulest and nastiest creatures that be.”
Many movies about ticks are actually about tick-borne diseases rather than the creatures, Berenbaum said. The earliest she found is the 1937 movie “Green Light,” about an outbreak of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. There are Westerns about the problem of cattle tick fever, and at least one 1950s TV show about tick-borne diseases, she said, but surprisingly, many movies featuring the actual creatures are not family friendly.
The festival’s feature film is the 1993 movie “Ticks” (rated R). It involves “kids camping at a wilderness character-building adventure that goes horribly wrong” when they learn the woods are filled with giant, mutated ticks, Berenbaum said.
Two family friendly shorts will precede the feature film. They are “Bite of the Ruby Red,” an episode of the 1950s TV show “Soldiers of Fortune” about the search for a cure to a tick-borne fever in the jungles of Central America, and “The Big Tick,” an episode of the “Ben 10” TV series about an alien tick that wants to destroy the world.
The Insect Fear Film Festival is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6 p.m. at Foellinger Auditorium, 709 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana. The festival’s insect petting zoo will include live ticks – in containers and disease-free – along with facts about ticks and tips to keep yourself safe when you are outside. The event also will include a display of arthropod-themed artwork created by area students for the festival’s art contest; arthropod ventriloquist Hannah Leskosky of Los Angeles; face painting; and insect balloons. The films begin at 7:30 p.m.