News & Info

What About Ticks?

Ticks are second only to mosquitoes in disease transmission.  They act as vectors of many pathogens including protozoa, helminthes, fungi, bacteria, rickettsia and viruses.  Furthermore, they may cause toxicosis, hypersensitivity and paralysis as well as blood loss resulting in economic loss due to the reduction of milk and meat production.

Ticks are classified as arthropods (insects).  There are about 850 species of ticks most of them belonging to two families, hard ticks and soft ticks.  Some of them are host-specific and others can feed on multiple hosts.  They can parasitize on mammals, birds, reptiles and even plants.

A tick’s life cycle is; the eggs hatch into larvae (having three pairs of legs) which molt into nymphs (having four pairs of legs) which molt into adults (with four pairs of legs) which mate and produce eggs after a blood meal.

Hard ticks have a relatively thick cuticle, live in the open environment, can adapt well to environmental changes and have considerable resistance to adverse conditions.  Hard ticks may use one, two, or three host life cycles.  In one-host-ticks all stages are found on the same host and only the pregnant female drops off into the environment to lay eggs.  In two-host-ticks the larvae molt into nymphs on the same host, drop off after a blood meal, and then molt in the environment to adults which attach themselves onto another host.  In three-host-ticks each stage leaves the host to molt into the next stage.  In each case; mating happens on the host.  The pregnant female feeds very slowly and for a long time (up to two weeks) to engorge with blood 100x its weight, drops off the host and lays up to 5000 eggs in one batch, then dies. 

Soft ticks have a thinner cuticle and cannot survive in the open environment. Because of this they live in the nests, burrows, caves and dens of their hosts well protected from adverse conditions.  The pregnant female will feed for a short time, seldom for more than one hour. It gains about 5-10x her weight, drops off the host to lay a few hundred eggs then climbs back onto the host again.  These females can live for up to 50 years without leaving the nest.

Ticks do not jump, fly or repel on silk threads from over hanging vegetation.  They acquire their hosts through direct contact when the host brushes against the vegetation harboring the ticks or when it returns to the infected nest.  Ticks may crawl short distances to attain a passive host. The process of drop-off is synchronized with host behavior and proper environmental conditions.

Pathogens are transmitted through saliva, coxal fluid, regurgitation, fresh feces or crushed ticks.

Ticks can be controlled in the environment by biological strategies or the use of aracicides.  They can be controlled on animals with collars, spot-on’s or sprays.  A professional should be consulted for the best strategy.