Ticks are arachnids that live off the blood of hosts, they are parasites that plague animals in general, they will be found on dogs, cats, birds and even reptiles sometimes. Ticks are related to scorpions and spiders. They are hematophagous parasites, that feed on the blood of a live host and they will live on that host for a few days if they are not removed. The ticks are most active in the spring and summer, but will be active in late autumn too. They do live in the winter, but they are not as active and can’t really find hosts. The bites of the ticks do not hurt, that’s what makes them excellent parasites. Most ticks do not have any diseases and will not cause problems with your health. But others can give you Lyme disease or some type of meningitis.
Description and distribution
Young ticks will have 6 legs divided into 3 pairs, while the mature ones have only 4 legs. They are really small, but can be seen with the naked eye. Males are all black while the females are black, but also have a red abdomen. The only way to change the host is through physical contact, as they don’t jump or fly, they just crawl on to the host. You will find them in areas with tall grass, so those are the areas that need to be avoided.
Tick species are widely distributed in the world, but they do flourish better in areas with humid climates, as they need a certain amount of moisture in order to undergo metamorphosis. Warm areas also help, because cold temperatures usually inhibit the development of egg into larva. They can affect many type of animals, from mammals, to birds, and reptiles, such as snakes, iguanas and lizards, and even amphibians. They can also cause considerable damage to livestock, pets, and can also affect humans.
Tick bite – what to do
Ticks need to be removed as soon as you notice them, and you should remove the whole tick, as this is the only way to prevent getting a disease. If you carefully eliminate the tick, you also eliminate the possibility of getting a disease. When removing the head, you will eliminate the possibility of getting a rash and of catching a disease as well. It’s important that the head is removed in one go, together with the body. If you only remove the body of the tick, the head will automatically inject saliva, which can carry disease through your body.
Usually, after correctly removing the tick, you don’t need to take other measures, other than disinfecting the areas. But in some cases, it will be better if you have a tetanus shot. There are people who have tick allergies, they can be really bad sometimes, and the person bitten can go into anaphylactic shock. The most diseases ticks’ can trigger have the same symptoms as a cold: fever, head-aches, nausea, vomiting. The symptoms can appear in the first day or event after 3 weeks. The symptoms can be accompanied by red blotches on the skin where the bite is. However, if you remove the tick in the first 24 hours you should be safe.
Ticks can have diseases like Lyme disease, Tularemia, Babesiosis, Colorado fever. You should consult a doctor if:
- you see signs of shock (especially in children);
- you have trouble breathing;
- you have an allergic reaction;
- you experience significant swelling of the tongue and laryngeal edema;
- you start to convulse.
If you get a bite, these are the signs you should look for:
- look for any respiratory problems, wheezing or skin blotches;
- if you have trouble moving your arms, you feel numb, you have trouble speaking or with your sight;
- look for changes in the place of the tick bite.
When going to the doctor you need to know the answers to the following questions:
- When did you get bitten? Where did you get bitten?
- How did the tick look like?
- How do you feel?
- Did you do something to treat the bite?
- Did you have a vaccine against tetanus?
- Did you travel somewhere that there is a Lyme disease problem?
Remember, first aid when it comes to tick bites includes: removing the tick as quickly as you can, by using tweezers, and eliminating the head in one go as well, not just the body. Then wash the area with soap and disinfectant. You should go to the doctor if: you did not remove the tick completely, you got a rash, you have trouble breathing, you have a fever.
Breeding and dietary information
Ticks have a lifecycle of four stages, going from egg to larva, nymph and adult. Females can usually lay up to 3, 000 eggs and when the larvae emerge and feed on their first host, they detach and moult into nymphs on the ground. They then attach to other hosts, feed on them and moult into adults. When reaching maturity, female ticks attach to larger hosts, feed, lay eggs and the cycle begins again.
Being parasites, ticks satisfy their nutritional requirements by feeding on the blood of their host. They need blood to survive and to be able to pass from one lifecycle to another. They can endure large periods of time without eating, but they do eventually die, if they are unable to find another host. They usually find their hosts by detecting their breath or bodily odours, but can also sense body heat, vibrations or moisture.
They don’t jump or fly, but just wait, clung to leaves or tall grass, for a host to pass by, so that they can attach to it. They extract blood by cutting a hole in the host’s epidermis, into which they insert their hypostome, and keep the blood from clotting by excreting an anticoagulant or platelet aggregation inhibitor. They feed until they become fully engorged, which means that their weight can increase from 200 to 600 times since they started feeding.
Ticks as pests
As mentioned before, ticks can harbour several types of pathogens, and this can make the diagnosis of an infection more difficult. Some can cause diseases like typhus, or Q fever, Lyme disease, tularemia, and tick-borne meningoencephalitis. Tick bites normally do not lead to infection if they are removed rapidly. These pests can be removed from a host with fine-tipped tweezers, by making sure you also remove the head, not just the body. It is also possible to freeze them off with a medical wart remover as well. Should you find that anyone in your home has been bitten by a tick, remove it with a pair of tweezers. Be careful not to squeeze the body of an embedded tick, as you do not want it to regurgitate into the attach point as this aids in the passing of diseases such as Lyme disease. The head must be removed in its whole.
They normally attach themselves in area with softer and more penetrable skin, such as:
- the groin
- under the arms
- inside the ears
- in the hair
- inside the belly button
- behind the knee
In order to prevent and control ticks from entering your house you will need to take some steps that will discourage ticks from developing around your home. Repairing any crevices or gaps and keeping grass cut short outside may discourage infestations. The disposal of all empty bird and rodent nesting materials is also necessary, as ticks will readily infest these items. Ticks can become a problem if there are suitable tick hosts living in the crawl space or attic. Other animals may bring ticks inside to their nests, burrows, roosts or other living spaces, as well as pets can bring ticks inside your house. Therefore, it always is a good idea to inspect your pets to make sure there are no ticks attached to them.
By modifying the landscape in your yard and garden, and removing tall grass, you will be able to reduce the presence of ticks on your property. Be sure to always take preventive measures, and maintain a decluttered space, as this will discourage the development of a tick population. Should you need to find out more about what type of preventive measures you can apply, visit our related article where we provide advice on how to ‘Prevent infestation with Ticks’. Also, should you already be dealing with a tick infestation, find out ‘How to get rid of Ticks’ and what type of products you can use.