The first time I saw one of these videos on TikTok, I couldn’t bear to look too closely. A doctor was cutting a man’s pants off, and asking him what happened; under the pants were dozens of dark, oval lumps embedded in his skin. They almost looked like ticks—but not ticks. Something else. I flicked the video away, not wanting to see it in any more detail. If I had zoomed in, though, I would have noticed why the lumps didn’t quite look like ticks. They were raisins.
Yep, TikTokers (TickTokers?) are covering their appendages in raisins or, more often, beans, and posting videos with captions like “what is this itch so much” and “ticks on the sand were horrible.” (Hashtag: #tickremoval.) The implied narrative is always the same: A person stumbled into an area of nature where the ticks were just waiting to glom onto their skin, and now they need to get them off. Often, they can’t.
Some are more convincing than others. After seeing a few that made me go “wait a minute…” I returned to the man at the doctor’s office. I zoomed in on his leg. Those were definitely raisins.
In one of the more realistic videos, a parent finds a small cluster of engorged ticks (beans) behind a toddler’s ear. The TikToker chose a type of dark gray bean that kind of does actually resemble engorged deer ticks, and a location (behind the ear) that not only is a common attachment site for ticks, but one that we can easily miss. It’s still beans, though.
If you’ve seen these videos and found yourself afraid to go outdoors ever again, please let me talk you down with some facts about ticks and how they differ from beans.
Do ticks actually embed themselves in people’s skin?
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Yes, unfortunately, this part is true. You can remove an embedded tick with tweezers or with a tick removal device. (I always keep a TickKey in my first aid kit.)
Do ticks really look like that?
Sort of! When a tick first crawls on you, it’s a tiny thing, maybe the size of a sesame seed. After it attaches—hours later, by the way—it begins to feed and fills (engorges) with blood. At that point, it’s roughly the size and shape of a bean. When it’s full, it will drop off.
Can you get that many ticks on you all at once?
Nope. I mean, you could pick up a bunch of ticks individually, so there’s not a hard limit, but you’re not going to get a cluster of bajillions of them. A more realistic scenario is that you go camping for a weekend, don’t check yourself for ticks while you’re out there, and return home to find several ticks on different parts of your body.
You can avoid this scenario with good old fashioned bug spray—DEET for your body, permethrin for your clothes. That and checking yourself every night, and removing any ticks you find.
I will note one place I’ve heard of clusters of ticks like this—in New England, winter ticks (also called moose ticks) can sometimes infest moose in large numbers. Most animals can groom the ticks off themselves, but moose seem to have trouble with this. So if you’re not a moose, this is not an issue you need to worry about. Winter ticks are not a threat to humans.
What if you stumble into a tick nest?
“Tick nests” aren’t really a thing. Ticks lay their eggs in dime-sized clusters, which later hatch and then the baby ticks go about their lives independently. (If you’ve seen that one viral photo of an alleged tick nest, it’s unclear what it is but Snopes confirms it’s definitely not a tick nest.)
Adult ticks do not hang around in nests or hives, and even if they did, they don’t attach instantly upon finding human skin. If you did get a bunch of ticks on you, they would all disperse in different directions and you’d find them a day or two later.
How do we know these TikToks aren’t actual ticks?
Because they’re beans! They look like beans! They act like beans! Often when the TikToker pulls them off, you can see the glue that was holding them on. The skin is never irritated or broken underneath; if you’ve ever removed a real tick, you know it leaves a mark. These are beans beans beans beans beans. (Except when they’re raisins.)
The clips also do not show the kind of videos you would take if your friend were actually being attacked by some strange infestation. Often the cameraperson silently films as the bean-encrusted person makes their frantic (fake) attempts to “remove” the beans. You wouldn’t at least help your friend get out of the creek?
The doctor’s office video was nicely done, but it still raises too many questions. Why does he have a pulse ox on the whole time? Why does the doctor need to cut the guy’s pants off, when the guy is clearly calm and conscious and able to take his own pants off? How is it that he “looked down and saw them” after working in “the field” when all of the raisins are fully obscured by his pant legs?
I do appreciate the creativity of some of these videos. There’s one where a person has their hand buried in leaf litter (ticks love leaf litter) and they pull it out to reveal a hand crusted in black beans. There’s another where the beans are mixed with another type of bead or foodstuff—I don’t quite recognize it—that, from a distance, looks a bit like bot fly larvae. (Do not google bot fly larvae.) There are even a few videos in which the TikToker allows actual arthropods—pill bugs, I think—to crawl over their bean-coated hands. The bugs are harmless, but they’re the same color as the beans, and the effect is utterly horrifying.
These are gross-out videos, folks. If you have trypophobia (the fear of holes or bumps), these will trigger it. They must to be fun to make: the TikTokers get to glue the beans on in geometric patterns, use their acting skills to feign fear and disgust, employ theatrical camera angles and soundtracks, and finally pick or pull the beans off. It’s really a wholesome hobby, if you think about it. Just don’t think it represents anything that happens in nature.