Ticks 101

The Basics

  • Ticks are arachnids, related to spiders, mites, and chiggers.
  • Ticks have 8 legs, except the larvae have 6.
  • Ticks feed on the blood of animals and humans.
  • An adult female drops off and lays several thousand eggs.
  • Tick larvae hatch in late spring or summer.
  • Tick nymphs emerge in spring.
  • Adults are active year-round, even in winter.
  • Some adults are active even when it’s below freezing.

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Four Developmental Stages of a Tick

Egg

  • Depending on temperature, humidity and other environmental factors, eggs will hatch in two weeks to several months after being laid.

 Larvae (Seed Ticks)

  • Have six legs and the sexes are indistinguishable
  • Difficulty finding and attaching to a host can cause prolonged fasts.
  • A large percentage of tick larvae die of starvation.
  • Some climb onto vegetation, waiting for a small rodent to pass by.
  • Some actively seek a vertebrate host, being guided by the sent of the animal.
  • After a single blood meal, the engorged larvae usually drop to the soil and molt to the eight-legged nymph stage.
  • The larvae of one-host ticks remain on the host to molt.

Nymph

  • Have eight legs like an adult, but lacks a genital opening.
  • After molting, the nymph must wait until a suitable host comes by.
  • After feeding on a host, the nymph drops off, molts and becoming an adult.
  • Nymphs may rest for long periods before becoming adults
  • When a tick moves from host to host, it risks it’s survival to find another host.
  • Some ticks, like the cattle tick, are one-host ticks and remain on a single host during their entire life-cycle.
  • Multiple host ticks survive because of their great reproductive capacity and their ability to survive for long periods without food.
  • Hard Ticks
    • Some species live less than a year, while other species can live up to three years or more.
    • Molt one time and then become adults (1 nymphal instar)
  • Soft Ticks: May molt several times before becoming adults (Multiple nymphal instars)

Adult

  • Sex is only distinguishable as an adult.
  • Female hard ticks have a small scutum(central thorax plate) compared to males.
  • Soft ticks are distinguished by the shape of their genital openings, located between the second pair of legs.
    • Male genital openings are almost circular
    • Female genital openings are oval and definitely broader than long
  • Unlike mosquitoes, both male and female ticks are blood suckers, and both require several days of feeding before copulation.
  • Male ticks copulate with one or more females after engorgement and then dies.
  • Female ticks drop to the ground after copulation, and after a few days for the eggs to mature, lays her eggs (hundreds to thousands).
  • Female hard ticks die a few days after laying eggs, while soft ticks may lay several batches of eggs, feeding between each batch (20-50 per batch).

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