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Videos are funny, but message is serious ‘Beware of ticks’

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

URI tick researcher goes for funny bone with award winning Ticknado, sequel Polar Vorticks

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 1, 2014 – The cheesy movie, Sharknado became a viral sensation last August, and it inspired a team of University of Rhode Island researchers and social media experts. The result was Ticknado, a video short played for laughs but with a serious message.

Ticknado was developed as a culmination to an intensive tick borne disease prevention social media internship pilot project headed by Professor of Entomology Tom Mather, director of URI’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and the TickEncounter Resource Center and Renee Hobbs, director of the Harrington School of Communication. The video was good for more than just a few yucks. It also won a national award from the Strategic Video Awards last fall. Watch the award-winning video, at



Similar to tornados, Ticknado developed quickly and production was fast paced. “It took us a day to film, and I had four or five days to do the special effects and cut it all together,” said URI alumnus Brian Mullen, director of new media for the TickEncounter Resource Center. Mullen was behind the filming, editing, and the special effects.

“TickEncounter’s purpose is to build tick literacy for tick bite protection and prevention of tick-transmitted diseases like Lyme disease,” Mather said. Although tick borne diseases are no laughing matter, Mather believes in using humor to first engage people at risk so they become ready to be educated and empowered to take preventive action. In the case of Ticknado, “we created it, as a public service announcement, but in a fun way,” explained Mather “We wanted people to know that in the fall, just when most people think tick season should be over, adult stage deer ticks actually come in…well, like a Ticknado,” said Mather, who plays a leading role in the video. Using its unique engagement-first approach, TickEncounter has rapidly become one of the nation’s leading resources on tick bite protection and disease prevention.

Mullen and Mather created the award-winning video along with their social media team, comprised of Suzanne McDonald, Katherine Gagliano, and Julia Scott Cavanaugh, three social media professionals, and student interns Lafleche Giasson, Dacia Daly, and Cara Sullivan. They played off of Sharknado for much of the actual dialogue. However, Mather and his team relied on perimeter spray treatments, tick repellent clothing, and pointy tweezers instead of chainsaws, guns, and homemade helicopter bombs as seen in Sharknado. “As a rule, we try to think of creative ways to present best-practice tick bite protection information so that it comes across slightly differently, because ‘ho-hum’ rarely moves people to action,” said Mather. One topic Ticknado aims to challenge are unreliable folk remedies for tick removal. A popular one is the removal of a tick with a burning match or cigarette. More information about safe tick removal can be found at Tick Removal.

The video was created during an end-of-the summer gathering with no expectation that it would ever win an award. However, McDonald, Mather’s social media team leader, knew about the Strategic Video Awards, and recommended submitting the creation. “We were quite surprised,” said Mather upon receiving news of their first-place finish.

But Mather and his crack cinematographic team are still at it. Now up for viewing is a thriller based on the area’s frigid weather, Polar Vorticks. “Just because much of America had weeks upon weeks of exceptionally cold weather this winter does not mean the tick population will be diminished this summer,” he said.

“People were saying, ‘Oh, well, it’s going to be lighter for ticks because they must have been killed’,” said TickGuy Mather. Even though many people believe cold weather kills ticks, Mather dispels this theory during his newest video, Polar Vorticks. And yes, this one is just as funny as Ticknado.

Just remember you’ve been warned, but if you seek tips on how to keep the miserable little blood suckers from infecting you, spend time using many of the tools available at Tips.

To see the latest cinematic adventure of Mather and his team, Polar Vorticks, go to



Photo by Brian Mullen
This press release was written by Ashley Henry, a communications major interning in URI’s Marketing and Communications Department.