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Ticks

Facts

Greater than 500 species of ticks exist worldwide. Ticks are divided into two groups according to body type hard and soft ticks. Hard ticks belong to the family Ixodidae, while soft ticks are part of the family Argasidae.

Appearance / Identification

tick image

Legs
Like their spider relatives, adult ticks have four pairs of legs extending from the sides of their bodies.

Size
Ticks vary in size from six-legged larvae measuring less than a millimeter in length to eight-legged adults with bodies ranging up to 1/4-inch long, depending on species and gender.

Shield Marking
Hard ticks, such as the American dog tick, feature a rigid shield directly behind the mouth and look like flattened seeds. Devoid of such a shield, soft ticks instead resemble large raisins.

Color
The color of ticks ranges from brown and reddish-brown to black. Adult female ticks belonging to certain species boast solitary silver or white spots on their backs.

Types of Ticks

Habits

Where Do They Live?
Parasitic by nature, ticks primarily live in wooded areas or thick vegetation where they can easily wait and attach onto a passing host. Ticks frequently lurk within grasses or shrubs adjacent to paths heavily traveled by humans and other animals.

Ticks detect hosts by vibrational cues, odors, exhaled carbon dioxide, and even cast shadow patterns. Certain species of ticks, like the deer tick, are prone to drying out and consequently prefer to inhabit moist areas with high humidity. Other tick varieties, such as brown dog ticks, can survive indoors and often hide in cracks or under furniture in households with pets and other suitable hosts.

Movement
Contrary to popular belief, ticks cannot fly or jump. The parasites move solely by crawling, often preferring to travel up the body of a host before feeding.

Diet

What Do They Eat?
Ticks feed on the blood of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles. Most common species of ticks, however, prefer warm-blooded mammals like deer, humans, and household pets such as dogs.

Immature ticks not yet fully developed often attach to and consume the blood of small animals like raccoons, rodents, and squirrels. When feeding, ticks latch onto a host firmly and slowly ingest the blood for up to several days, if undetected.

Reproduction & Life Cycle

The life cycle of most ticks includes four distinct stages egg, larva, nymph, and adult.. Like many animals, adult female ticks wait until spring to lay eggs, which quickly hatch into six-legged larvae over the summer and become eight-legged nymphs the following spring. Ticks remain in the nymph stage until reaching full maturity, sometimes three years after hatching. A bloodmeal is needed at each stage of the life cycle. If a suitable host is not located, tick larvae can survive long periods of time without feeding between molting into nymphs.

Ticks can be either hard or soft bodied. The hard ticks have an exposed head and mouth, and a shield that covers most of the upper body. The soft tick is sac-like with no hard shield. Instead, they have a leathery exoskeleton for protection.

When ticks feed, they engorge with blood. Female ticks can grow to be almost 3 times their normal size when engorged. Males don’t grow as large as females when they feed. Some adult ticks can exist for two years without feeding.

There are a variety of tick species. Hard tick species include the brown dog tick, American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick and the deer tick. Soft ticks species include the common fowl tick and the relapsing fever tick.

Soft ticks are found in caves and nests, and can attach themselves to birds and bats. Hard ticks are found in deep woods with tall grasses and bushes, and will attach themselves to all mammals, including humans.

Ticks are not insects; they are arachnids. Like spiders, they possess 8 legs. Ticks will find a host, feed and then drop to the ground to complete one of its four life stages. At each stage, the tick goes through a transformation and then will feed when it finds its next host.

Ticks can carry a host of diseases and will pass them on to their hosts. Some common tick-born diseases include Rock Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Be sure to seek medical help if a tick bites you. The symptoms of the serious diseases usually manifest themselves within 3-20 days.

Ticks usually can be found in the spring and fall months. They prefer to remain underground during the summer and winter.