Learn to tell the difference between three of the most common ticks. This article includes images and information about blood feeding, life cycle and more.
Brown Dog Tick
Females have two-toned bodies that are dark brown at the head and reddish-orange at the rear, while males are monochromatic and dark brown all over.
Note: the arrow in the image above is comparing the shield, or scutum, of the male and female…another way to tell them apart. The deer tick is also called the blacklegged tick.
After consuming a blood meal and becoming fully engorged, adult female deer ticks can grow to about a half-inch in length, with swollen bodies that turn grayish in color.
As adults, the insects generally range in size from a sixteenth to an eighth of an inch. Like all other tick species, deer ticks vary in size depending on their current position in the life cycle. Nearly microscopic, the bodies of recently hatched larvae measure less than a millimeter across. Deer ticks in the nymphal stage of development are typically about a millimeter in length, or roughly as large as a pinhead.
How Do They Feed?
As carnivorous parasites, deer ticks feed on the blood of other animals. Prior to adulthood, the insects primarily use mice, birds, and other creatures of similar size as hosts. Nymphs also bite and consume the blood of medium-sized animals and humans. Adults, while still a threat to humans, generally obtain their blood meals from white-tailed deer. Once attached to a host, deer ticks feed for several days to ingest the amount of blood necessary for development. The parasites typically feed for three days as larvae and four days as nymphs, while adult females often remain attached for as long as a week.
After consuming the necessary blood meal during the previous fall, adult female deer ticks lay roughly 2,000 eggs at a time in the spring. Larvae hatch during late summer and consume their first blood meal from an appropriately sized host. After feeding, larvae molt and develop into nymphs, which overwinter until the following spring. Nymphs become active again as the weather warms up and search for suitable hosts throughout the spring and summer. During the fall, nymphs molt into adults and mate, with females needing to feed on host animals in order to facilitate production of eggs. Though active on warmer winter days, adult females wait until the following spring to lay the fertilized eggs and initiate a new life cycle. Deer ticks typically complete an entire life cycle in two years.
Because deer ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of other animals, they carry a high risk of catching and spreading diseases. Deer ticks transmit disease-causing bacteria when they feed on an infected host and then bite another animal.
Lyme disease ranks among the most common and recognized ailments transmitted by deer ticks. Though fully curable if treated promptly, Lyme disease can cause headaches, fevers and chills, fatigue, joint pain, and even facial palsy and meningitis. The insects can also spread anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan disease. In addition to wild animals, both humans and household pets are at risk for contracting the diseases carried by deer ticks.
Before a blood meal, the parasites are reddish-brown in color. After feeding, they take on a blue-gray coloration.
Very small, adult brown dog ticks only grow to about 1/8 of an inch in size. However, when females are engorged with a blood meal, they can appear as long as 1/2 an inch.
Adults have eight legs and appear flattened and oval in shape, with prominent mouthparts that are visible when viewing the parasites from above. Males feature tiny pits scattered across the back of their bodies. Brown dog ticks are so small, however, that their distinguishing characteristics cannot be observed without the aid of a microscope.
An invasive parasite, the brown dog tick needs blood meals to survive and procreate. As its name suggests, the pest prefers to feed on the blood of dogs; however, the parasitic arachnid also poses a threat to humans.
How Do They Feed?
As parasitic organisms, brown dog ticks survive exclusively off the blood of other animals. While they heavily favor dogs as hosts, the pests occasionally feed on humans and other mammals.
The life cycle of the brown dog tick comprises four developmental stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Between each stage, the pests must consume a blood meal. A three-host parasite, brown dog ticks lay eggs that hatch within two to five weeks. Newborn larvae immediately seek a blood meal from a dog and, after feeding for three to seven days, drop from the canine host to molt. The emerging nymph then attaches to a second host to feed for five to ten days before molting and reemerging as an adult. Females then require a blood meal to mate and lay eggs.
Fully engorged brown dog ticks can lay up to 5,000 eggs in cracks, crevices, and carpet, as well as beneath baseboards, loose plaster, and other wall coverings. After laying eggs for as many as 15 days, the female dies. In ideal conditions, brown dog ticks complete the lifecycle in 63 days. Within the U.S., the parasites can produce up to four generations of offspring each year in the warmer environment of the South, while brown dog ticks in the North typically only produce two generations annually.
- Household dogs may become irritable, seemingly for no reason.
- May notice dark spots in the fur, between the toes, or in the ears of infested dogs.
- Affected dogs may contract a fever.
Even though they neither damage property nor transmit diseases to humans, brown dog ticks still present serious dangers in the home. The parasites are vectors of several diseases that affect dogs, including canine ehrlichiosis and canine babesia. Canine ehrlichiosis causes lameness and fever, while canine babesia induces symptoms like fever, anorexia, and anemia. Brown dog ticks also irritate the skin of both canines and humans. On rare occasions, the parasites will bite humans and create the potential for the development of infections and blood poisoning.
Since adult ticks are tiny and easy to miss, signs of infestation often come from the symptoms of the affected dog. When dogs become irritable, develop a fever or lethargy, or vomit often, a brown dog tick infestation may be present. Carefully combing through the fur of the symptomatic dog, and especially focusing on the back, the insides of the ears, and in between the toes, may confirm the presence of brown dog tick adults and nymphs.
Female wood ticks are slightly larger than males. Unfed, they measure about 5 mm in length.
After blood meals, female wood ticks can appear as long as 15 mm and as wide as 10 mm.
How Do They Feed?
Wood ticks, also known as American dog ticks prefer canines as hosts but their presence negatively affects humans, as well.
Wood ticks pass through four stages of development: egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. The cycle takes at least two months to complete but can last up to two years, depending on the availability of food. Ticks must have a blood meal between each stage and can wait for several months at a time when hosts are inaccessible. Females lay anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 eggs at a time.
Problems Caused by Wood Ticks
The primary concern associated with wood tick presence is the spread of disease. These pests carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia and cause canine tick paralysis. The first two diseases induce chills, fever, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, and skin rashes in people. Canine tick paralysis, as the name would suggest, primarily affects dogs and can be fatal if left untreated.
Infestations of wood ticks become apparent when house residents or pets start experiencing symptoms of the diseases mentioned above. Individuals may also notice red bumps, or feeding sites, on their skin, especially behind their knees, around the groin, in their armpits, and on their necks.