Identification and Life Cycle
The three more common species of ticks are the American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis), The Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum), and the Blacklegged Tick, or Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis). They possess a high potential for transmitting disease causing organisms to humans.
The American Dog tick is approximately 1/4 – inch long and is a light chestnut brown with a silvery-gray or creamy-white scutum.
The Lone Star tick is approximately 1/4 – inch long and reddish-brown in color. The female has a white dot or “star”, in the center of her back (shield).
The Blacklegged or Deer tick is less than 1/8 – inch long and are dark brown in color. Due to their small size, the attachment on a human can often go unnoticed.
All developmental stages (larva, nymph, and adult), require blood as a nutritive source. Its life cycle begins with an engorged female dropping off its host after a blood meal and completes digestion. She then develops a large cluster of eggs in a single mass, and dies shortly after. The larva emerges from the egg, and immediately finds a host. Once engorged with blood, the larval tick detaches its mouthparts, drops from the host, and molts to the eight-legged nymphal stage. The nymph then finds a host to feed upon, and once engorged, drops and molts to an adult.
Habits and Damage
Ticks are arthropods, and need blood to survive. They lack wings and may have either six or eight legs and depending on the species, ticks can lay from a few hundred to as many as three thousand eggs.
The adult tick prefers vegetation sites of tall grass and shrubs. Immature ticks are more likely to stay close to the ground in leaf litter and in lower vegetation where they will encounter small rodents and deer which to feed upon. Dogs can also bring an engorged tick indoors that can be exposed to humans.
Tick bites occur most often during early spring to late summer. Not all ticks carry diseases, but it is important to promptly remove a tick as soon as you find it. A bite from an infected tick can transmit diseases to humans such as Rocky Mountain Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, Babesiosis and Lyme.
Guidelines To Safely Remove A Tick
- Proper grasp. Use thin tweezers, and grasp the tick as close to the skin. Pull gently and slowly straight up & away from the skin. Do not pull hard or twist because you may leave the mouthparts behind.
- Disinfect. After removal, wash the area of the bite with soap and water. Disinfect with rubbing alcohol.
- Save the tick. Save the tick in a small container or clear-tape it to an index card with the date (symptoms from an infected bite can take up to 1 to 30 days to show). If you experience a rash, headaches, fever, and flu-like symptoms consult your physician.
- Non-effective methods. Never use alcohol, nail polish, a hot match, or petroleum jelly to remove a tick. This may increase the chance of it transmitting diseases by causing it to regurgitate into the bite wound.
Prevention and Management
The best strategy for ticks is prevention. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program can help control ticks by combining prevention methods around your home.
People who regularly work outdoors are at risk, as well as campers, hikers, hunters, dogs, and children because of their playing habits outside. Tick-borne illnesses may be prevented by avoiding tick habitats such as dense woods and brushy areas. In addition, you can use repellents containing DEET, wear long pants and socks, and perform tick checks often.
The following tips are recommended to help prevent a problem with ticks.
- Walk on cleared trails and avoid brushing up against vegetation and tall grass.
- Wear proper clothing while in tick habitat. Light colored clothing allows you to spot crawling ticks. Also, apply repellent to exposed skin, and around waistband and top of socks.
- Conduct frequent tick checks. Check favorite sites for ticks such as head, shoulders, armpits, and groin area.
- Check your pets after they come into your home. Pets are more likely to bring them indoors.
- Treat outdoor pet areas such as locations where pets spend most of their time. This includes sleeping areas and pathways.
- Promptly remove ticks. During the first 24 hours of tick attachment, there is no transmission of bacteria.
- Create “tick-free” areas around your home by trimming bushes and cutting back wooded areas to increase the size of open lawn.
- Remove wood piles, leaf debris and other organic materials that can harborage ticks & small rodents.
- Keep your lawn mowed to a height of 3 inches or less. This makes it difficult for ticks to survive.