Introduction to Ticks
Ticks are tiny arachnids that live on the blood of birds, mammals, and occasionally, reptiles. Also known as ectoparasites, or external parasites, over 800 species of ticks are found throughout the world, and densely populate much of the United States, particularly in heavily wooded or forested regions. Ticks can carry viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, which when transferred to the host animal or human, may cause disease. Tick-transmitted diseases include Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
There are two common types, or families, of ticks — soft ticks, or Argasidae and hard ticks, or Ixodidae. Examples of soft ticks include the Pajahuello Tick, found in California, and Poultry Ticks. Some examples of hard ticks include the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, the Common Brown Dog Tick, and the American Dog Tick. Soft and hard tick bodies’ and mouthpieces’ look different, and have slightly different life cycles. Depending on the type of tick, they may have one to three hosts over their lifetime. The life of a tick begins when it hatches from its egg as larva, then molts into a nymph, and then turns into an adult. One-host ticks stay with a single host from nymph to adult. Two-host ticks drop off their host before laying eggs, and then seek another host. Three-host ticks repeat the host cycle between each subsequent life stage.
Since ticks cannot jump onto their prey, they typically lie in wait on tall grasses and plants and grasp on to the host as it brushes by. Some ticks will crawl on a host from the ground. They are attracted to their hosts by the heat and carbon dioxide that the host animal or human gives off. Once a tick finds a host, they attach their harpoon-like mouthpiece into the host’s skin to start drawing out blood. The tick may take several hours to several days to gorge until full, when they drop off and continue their life cycle. Once engorged with blood, a tick will appear several times its normal size.
Some tick species, such as the American Deer Tick, rely so heavily on their preferred host population, that a reduction in that population directly affects the tick population. A study showed that when number of white tailed deer fell, the tick population seriously suffered.
While most tick bites do not result in disease, avoiding such bites may be your best defense. When walking on trails, or through vegetation, avoid brushing against tall grasses or plants. Wear long socks, pants and sleeves, and apply an insect repellent containing at least 10% DEET. Every few hours, examine your skin and clothing for ticks so they can be removed before they attach.
You can reduce the chance of having ticks on your property by keeping grass and shrubs pruned and short. Not only will this reduce the humidity that ticks require, but it will reduce the living quarters from which ticks can come into contact with potential hosts. Many chemical flea and tick treatments are not considered safe for humans, so there are few safe ways to kill ticks around your yard. However, there are a couple natural predators, such as the Ichneumon wasp and Guineafowl, which can help curb a tick population.
Written by O. Wallace
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