We know the sickening feeling when you go for a nice walk outdoors or come home from a park with your kids and there it is. You stomach drops and you remove it as fast as you can and want to identify that tick as soon as possible to see if it is one that carries Lyme disease. Ticks are not insects, but are more closely related to spiders and mites. There are four species of ticks that are of medical and veterinary importance in New Jersey. All four pass through 4 stages of development: egg, larva, nymph, and the sexually differentiated adult. In addition, the ticks discussed here are 3-host ticks; they must locate and feed upon 3 different hosts in order to complete their life cycle. The animals that provide the bloodmeal are termed maintenance hosts. With the possible exception of the brown dog tick, these ticks are not host-specific and, thus, will feed on a variety of vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles and incidental humans. Although birds are important maintenance hosts, they are not considered to be significant reservoirs of tick-borne pathogens, as they are more important for their ability to rapidly disperse ticks to new geographical areas.
How ticks find their hosts
Ticks find their hosts by detecting animals body odors and animals breath, or by sensing body heat, moisture, and vibrations. Some species can even recognize your shadow. Ticks pick a place to wait by identifying well-used paths. Then they wait for a host, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs. Ticks can’t fly or jump, but many tick species wait in a position known as questing.
While questing, ticks hold onto leaves and grass by their third and fourth pair of legs. They hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb on to the host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard. Some ticks will attach quickly, and others will wander, looking for places like the ear, or other areas where the skin is thinner.
How ticks spread disease
Ticks transmit pathogens that cause disease through the process of feeding.
- Depending on the tick species and its stage of life, preparing to feed can take from 10 minutes to 2 hours. When the tick finds a feeding spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface.
- The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached during the meal. The feeding tube can have barbs which help keep the tick in place.
- Ticks also can secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so that the animal or person can’t feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed.
- A tick will suck the blood slowly for several days. If the host animal has a bloodborne infection, the tick will ingest the pathogens with the blood.
- Small amounts of saliva from the tick may also enter the skin of the host animal during the feeding process. If the tick contains a pathogen, the organism may be transmitted to the host animal in this way.
- After feeding, most ticks will drop off and prepare for the next life stage. At its next feeding, it can then transmit an acquired disease to the new host.
Ticks acquire hosts via questing or host-seeking behavior, which largely determines the type of animal that is parasitized. Because of its importance as the vector of Lyme disease, human babesiosis, and human anaplasmosis, the black-legged tick receives the greatest emphasis, but major differences in the biology, behavior, and ecology of the other tick species are noted. Contact us for New Jersey’s BEST, All Natural Tick Control and Mosquito Control Spray solution.
Lone Star Tick
American Dog Tick
Brown Dog Tick