A tick survived for 27 years in a researcher's laboratory including eight without food—a new record for the species.
Julian Shepherd, associate professor of biological science at Binghamton University in New York, also found that a female tick was able to store sperm and reproduce from it four years after the last male tick in his study group died.
His findings are published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
Argus Brumpti is a species of soft tick found in southern and east Africa. Shepherd said he had received ticks collected in Kenya as a gift in 1976 and decided to study them in a stable habitat he set up in his lab.
The scientist was given six adult females, four adult males and three nymph Argas brumpti. He had no idea that the animals would go on to survive for decades in a feat of tick longevity previously unknown to science.
"I am always enthralled by the adaptations of organisms to their environment—in this case, a dry environment with virtually no access to water for long periods of time and a lifestyle that must wait for very long intervals of no food between encounters with host animals," Shepherd said in a statement.
The ticks lived on lab rabbits, mice and rats until Shepherd decided to take these animals away in 1984.
The male ticks survived for four years with no food. The females lived for another four, at which point Shepherd started feeding them again. One of the original females then reproduced, laying a batch of eggs—despite the last male dying at least four years earlier.
Shepherd said one possible explanation for this is that the ticks are able to store sperm for long periods.
"The longevity of these ticks is apparently a record for any species of tick," Shepherd wrote in the study. "The delay in reproduction likely represents long-term storage of viable sperm, also apparently a record for any species of tick."
Like these ticks, other animals have been known to survive incredible lengths of time without food. Tardigrades for example, microscopic animals also known as water bears, have been known to survive without any food for 30 years. Olms, a type of cave salamander, can live without food for up to a decade, while large crocodiles can go over a year without eating.
The record-breaking ticks are now being sent to scientists in South Africa for further testing. "Research on how organisms master such challenges can inform understanding of how other organisms, including us, might manage similar challenges," Shepherd said.