Ticks are a serious problem, as they are known carriers of disease. There are two primary types of ticks — soft ticks and hard ticks. Learning about the differences will help you quickly identify any ticks that you encounter and better understand the risks that are associated with them.

What Are Soft Ticks?

Image via Flickr by Steenaire

Soft ticks are a type of arthropod that feeds on blood from animal and human hosts. There are about 150 species of soft ticks, compared to the 650 species of hard ticks in the world. Soft ticks are much larger than hard ticks, making them easier to see and identify, particularly in their adult stage.

What Do Soft Ticks Look Like?

Soft ticks are large, measuring about 1/4 inch in length. They're oval in shape and may appear dark brown, reddish, or tan. They have a leathery appearance to their bodies. The tick's cuticle expands as it feeds on blood. A soft tick can ingest a blood volume anywhere from five to 10 times its unfed body weight.

The mouthparts of a soft tick are not visible when it's viewed from above. This is one of the features that distinguishes soft ticks from hard ticks. When looking at a hard tick from above, you will be able to see the mouthparts protruding from the head. In the larval stage, soft ticks have just six legs. In the nymphal and adult stages, ticks have eight legs. 

Where Do Soft Ticks Live?

Soft ticks typically appear in the western United States. These ticks thrive in hot, dry conditions. They seek out habitats where they can find ample hosts, such as rodent burrows or pigeon roosts. Soft ticks like to feed on mice, rabbits, and birds.

If a cabin or home is infested with rodents, it's more likely that it will get infested with ticks, too. Soft ticks prefer to seek out only simple dwellings like cabins or sheds. They're less likely to appear in well-established neighborhoods.

Soft ticks feed only briefly on their hosts before dropping off and retreating. When they're not feeding, soft ticks will hide in nearby cracks, crevices, and furniture waiting for the next meal.

Problems With Soft Ticks

Soft ticks are very long-lived. While hard ticks live anywhere from two months to three years, soft ticks can live as long as 16 years. The females of the species lay eggs many times in batches of 20 to 50 after each feeding. Most soft tick species do not bury themselves on their hosts. They will feed for just a short time, then detach.

The mouthparts of the soft tick can easily penetrate human skin, and they are not easily removed. The hypostome of the tick may remain in the host even after the tick itself is removed.

The Tickborne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) is transmitted by soft ticks. This bacterial infection causes a high fever, muscle aches, joint pain, and headaches. The fever period includes a series of events known as a “crisis.” For 10 to 30 minutes, the patient develops a high fever of up to 106.7 degrees. This may be accompanied by delirium, agitation, and tachycardia. Next, the patient experiences a rapid drop in temperature accompanied by body sweats.

TBRF typically incubates for about a week after the tick bite. Because soft ticks drop off quickly on their own, you may not be aware that you even encountered them. TBRF occurs in a cycle of relapsing symptoms. Patients typically have a fever for three days followed by seven days without. The fever then recurs for three days. This can repeat several times if the patient does not receive the proper antibiotic treatment.

Pest Control Solutions for Soft Ticks

Controlling soft ticks is a multi-stage process. First, you must identify the creatures that are serving as hosts for the ticks. If you have birds nesting in your attic or rodents taking up residence in the walls, the first step is to control them. An experienced pest control professional can evaluate your property carefully to identify the presence of ticks and other pests.

Tick identification is an important part of the process. Working with an exterminator will help ensure that you identify the ticks on your property accurately. The exterminator can then provide you with several helpful steps for discouraging tick habitation and eliminating the ticks in your home. Leaf litter, rock piles, wood piles, and fallen logs are all welcome habitats for soft ticks. Thinning the landscaping so more sunlight reaches the ground will help deter ticks.

A pest control professional may also use chemical products to help eliminate ticks hiding in your home and landscaping. This can be applied to ornamental plantings, cover vegetation, and other parts of the yard.

Other Soft Tick Facts

Learn more about soft ticks so you're prepared for any encounters you might have with them.

Feeding Patterns

Ticks actively seek out and feed on hosts in all life stages. They feed for about 30 minutes at a time. Soft ticks can survive for over a year between feedings when necessary. Some species of soft ticks can survive for as many as 10 years.

Removing Ticks

If you find a tick on you, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or curved forceps to grasp it firmly by the head. Stay as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick backward slowly while keeping it flat to the skin. Don't grasp and pull on the body as this can leave the head in the skin. Pulling upward or yanking on the tick quickly may cause the mouthparts to come off, which can also irritate the skin and increase the chances of infection.

Once the tick has been removed, wash the site of the bite with soap and water. Treat it with alcohol or antibiotic cream to prevent infection.

If you find soft ticks after a hiking or camping trip, they are likely hitchhikers from a more remote area. Soft tick infestations in well-developed homes are rare. However, this is an issue that you should address as soon as possible if you're finding a large number of them.


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