You may think ticks are insects but they’re actually bloodsucking arachnids. Adult ticks have eight legs and two body segments just like spiders, mites and chiggers.
According to the CDC, most ticks go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive.
Ticks that require this many hosts can take up to 3 years to complete their full life cycle, and most will die because they don’t find a host for their next feeding. And ticks aren’t choosy about their host – they can feed on mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Did you know…
- tick watchers – from foresters to disease ecologists – are reporting a population explosion among black-legged ticks, formerly known as deer ticks, this year?! The cause isn’t clear but it could be due to a bumper crop of acorns that caused an increase of vermin (mice, squirrels, etc.) combined with the mild winter, but ticks are out there … and they’re hungry.
- white-footed mice and other small mammals, not deer, are now known by scientists to be major carriers of Lyme disease?! Birds are major carriers too.
- University of Virginia researchers claim a bite from the lone star tick, so-called for the white spot on its back, may trigger an allergic reaction … to meat?!
Ticks grab onto a host (animals or people walking through brush) and sink their harpoon-like barbed mouth and head into the host’s skin to dine until they’re full of blood. Then they drop off and wait for the next meal to pass by. Since ticks feast on one spot for days, they can spread bacteria and diseases from host to host (like from animals to humans) – even by touching them.
The main threat of ticks is the risk of illness or disease (like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever or tick paralysis) so the best defense is reducing exposure to ticks or finding and removing them as quickly as possible.
Things to watch for…
- Bite or sting mark or ticks
- Pain or burning feeling
- Redness or Swelling or Rash
- Stomach pain or puking
- Flu-like symptoms – fever, dizziness, weakness, headache, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, etc.
- Change in skin color or bruising or rash (may look kind of like a bulls-eye)
What to do for ticks…
Key things are to find a tick before it feasts for days and to remove a tick slowly with head intact so it doesn’t spew bacteria into the blood stream.
- DO NOT use petroleum jelly, liquid soap, nail polish or heat – they don’t work!
- Use tweezers or commercial tick remover (or at least cover fingers with a tissue).
- Grasp tick close to skin where head is buried – don’t squeeze it!
- Slowly pull tick straight up until skin puckers — it may take several seconds but tick will loosen its barbs and let go.
- DO NOT throw tick away since it may need to be tested! Put it in zippered baggie with moist paper towel, date it, and put in refrigerator.
- Wash bite wound and tweezers with soap and water.
- Call local health department or vet to ask if tick needs to be identified or tested. If not, throw away baggie.
- Watch for rash, infection or symptoms for a week or so.
Things to do to avoid ticks…
- Wear light-colored pants and long-sleeve shirt (to see ticks), a hat (to keep out of hair) and tuck in (pants in socks and shirt in pants).
- When hiking, walk in the center of trails and try to avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Use tick repellent with DEET and make sure you spray shoes and socks too.
- Do full body checks at least a few times a day during tick season and don’t forget to check your pets!
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Inspect and rinse off gear and shoes.
- The CDC suggests tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks. (Some research suggests that shorter drying times may also be effective, particularly if the clothing is not wet.)
A handy tick tool is by Dr. Pete Teel, Texas AgriLife Research entomologist at College Station and hero tick stalker extraordinaire. Dr. Teel has created a one-place-for-all info-tool called the TickApp, a central cyber point that can be accessed any time/any day for all the tick information you need whether you are a dog owner, hunter, farmer or rancher, hiker, soldier, or medical professional.
Teel says the mobile smartphone app is available at no charge and is easy to use with little searching required. “Whether you are a healthcare professional needing fast tick identification information, an urban pet owner slogging through the bewildering arsenal of control alternatives or a South Texas cattleman facing financial hardship due to ticks, the app is meant for you,” Teel said in a recent AgriLife update. “It’s all very user-friendly and opens with just six easy-to-follow tabs that are quick to navigate. There’s a brief introduction, then a tick ID tab followed by tabs on tick biology, prevention and protection, removal and finally control and management practices.”
The TickApp can be downloaded at http://tickapp.tamu.edu.
Helpful Resources & Sources:
CDC’s Ticks site www.cdc.gov/ticks/
CDC’s Lyme Disease page www.cdc.gov/lyme/
CDC NCID’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases site at www.cdc.gov/ncezid/dvbd/
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station’s Tick Management Handbook (71-page PDF)
CDPH’s Don’t Let the Ticks Bite – Curriculum Guide for Teachers
Outwitting the tick boom of 2012 – Philly.com
Allergic to Meat: Lone Star Tick May Make Vegetarians of Some – ABCnews.com
Predators, Prey and Lyme Disease – NYTimes.com
Novel Animal Reservoir for Group of Tick-Borne Diseases Discovered — And It Lives in Your Backyard – ScienceDaily.com
Smartphone app battles tick problem – Southwest Farm Press