Image via flickr by John Tann
Although all creatures on Earth are supposed to have a purpose, some seem to be here so they can be observed in the dictionary beside the word “pest.” A tick is indubitably one creepy-crawly that will leave you scratching your head as to why it exists. Still, ticks do have a reasonably significant role within the ecosystems where they live. They are analyzed as disease vectors by scientists and are a food source for many animals.
Generally speaking, ticks are blood-sucking parasites that carry and transfer a significant number of diseases. If you have dogs that spend time inside, you are more prone to face these little pests. Otherwise, if you are an energetic person who fancies being outdoors, you may discover that you have picked up a tick while enjoying some time hiking, camping, or working in your yard. Learning about the behavioral characteristics of ticks is an excellent way to understand how to handle them.
Many people view ticks to be insects, but they are arachnids. Yes, they are related to spiders and scorpions. They feast on the blood of domesticated dogs, wild animals, and humans. About 30 species of ticks form the Dermacentor tick genus. All are categorized as “hard ticks.”
Hard ticks dine on birds, reptiles, and mammals, including domesticated animals and humans. Hard ticks are confronted more often by humans due to them hitching rides on pets. A hard tick begins its lifecycle as an egg. Then it passes through three stages, progressing from a larval stage to a nymphal stage before maturing into an adult. An adult female tick can lay thousands of eggs.
Ticks feed on blood no matter the stage of life they are in. When in the larval and nymphal stages, hard ticks will typically feed on smaller mammals. When they have fully matured, they will seek out larger prey to feed on, such as your dog or even you, if given the opportunity. Tick bites can cause some discomfort, but just a bite alone is not that serious. It’s the diseases ticks carry that are of great concern.
In the larval stage, ticks only have six legs. In the nymphal and adult stages, they have eight legs. The color of ticks varies depending on the species. Adult ticks can be the size of sunflower seeds or even smaller, but when they are engorged with a host’s blood, they can be over a centimeter in length. Tick larvae are usually less than a millimeter in size.
One misconception about ticks is that they embed their entire heads into the skin of their hosts; this is not true. They only insert their mouthparts into the skin. They then inject anti-clotting agents into the skin while feeding. Once a tick sets its mouth into place and begins to feed, it can be somewhat challenging to dislodge.
When you notice a tick on your skin that has attached itself and is feeding, you will need a few things to remove it. You will need to have a disinfectant, such as rubbing alcohol, and a good set of tweezers. You should press the tweezers down on the tick as close to its head as possible and pull up with even pressure until the tick releases.
When removing a tick from the skin, its mouthparts may break loose from its body and remain lodged in the skin. However, the mouthparts can be extracted with tweezers. Once you have removed the tick, you can kill it by freezing it or submerging it in alcohol. After the tick has been discarded, you should use rubbing alcohol to disinfect the bite area as well as your hands and the tweezers. If you fear that you have contracted an illness from a tick bite, you should seek medical treatment immediately to ensure your health is not at risk.
The American dog tick is the Dermacentor tick that has the most human interaction, and this is due in part to its alluded name. Dogs are a popular pet, and many of our furry friends spend just as much time indoors with us as they do outdoors. Because of this, they can unknowingly introduce ticks to the inside of our homes.
The most common disease that this tick can spread is Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The symptoms that accompany this sickness are lack of appetite, nausea, muscle pain, and fever. If left untreated, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal. This tick can transmit other diseases like Colorado tick fever, encephalitis, Q fever, tularemia, and tick paralysis.
Numerous types of ticks are known to infest areas rather quickly. It’s best to avoid areas that are overrun by ticks. If you need to venture into tick-infested territories, you can take specific steps to decrease your odds of being bitten:
Tick prevention around your home can be as easy as keeping your yard and property well-manicured. In some cases, ticks are introduced to your home by other household pests, such as mice, and you may need to treat for multiple pests at a time. In these instances, trained professionals can diagnose and resolve the underlying problem.
Having a working knowledge of how Dermacentor ticks behave can help you stay vigilant while enjoying time outdoors. If you believe that you, your family, or your pets have been exposed to ticks, taking the time to search for ticks is always a good start. Follow the tips above to get out there and enjoy your next outdoor adventure while staying tick-free.