How Long Do Ticks Live?

How Long Do Ticks Live?

Ticks will be active during all seasons, like spring, summer, and winter. They are harmful to humans and animals as they spread various diseases. Ticks are parasites – they thrive by getting nutrients from the host organism. There are many myths surrounding ticks, especially about their lifespan. 

In this article, we can discuss the life cycle of ticks and how long do ticks live without a host.

Get A Rundown On Tick Life Cycle

Generally, ticks have four life cycle stages. They are 

  1. Embryonated egg 
  2. Larva stage
  3. Nymph
  4. Adult stage

Source: Pinterest

Embryonated egg: 

  • Female ticks seek sheltered environments after mating to lay their eggs.
  • The number of eggs produced by mated, blood-fed ticks depends on various factors. They are blood meal volume, egg size, and species. 
  • Here blood meal volume is the factor that affects the number of eggs deposited. 
  • If female ticks consume larger blood meals, they may lay more eggs.
  • A Soft tick called Argasidae deposits small egg batches after each blood meal. They are capable of feeding and ovipositing many times. 
  • In the family of ticks called Ixodidae, the mated females lay more than thousands of eggs in a single gonotrophic cycle.
  • The American Dog tick variety lays an average of 5.380 eggs.
  • The highest egg mass ever recorded from a single tick was 22.891, Amblyomma nuttalli female.

Larva:

  • Tick egg hatches into larvae (called seed ticks, which only have six legs) later in the summer. 
  • Once they reach this life stage, they will become ready to wait for their first host to pass by. 
  • They need a host in each stage of life to pass on to the next. 
  • In this stage, ticks use smaller mammals as their first host, and the white-footed mouse, an efficient transmitter of Lyme disease, is one of the most common mammals they feed on in this period. 
  • If larvae find and feed on a mammal with a disease, the tick will get the disease through transmission. They will transmit it to other mammals like raccoons or birds who may not have the infection. 
  • If the larvae feed on non-infected animals, they will not become infected with Lyme disease at this point in their life. 
  • They do not carry tick-borne illnesses, but they become carriers of Lyme when they suck the blood of an already infected mammal. 
  • Larvae growth peeks in August. Larvae fall to the ground after feeding on a host and begin transitioning to their next life stage as nymphs.

Nymphs:

  • Nymphs have eight legs and resemble the adult tick. 
  • They can live without feeding for long periods in this stage until finding a host.
  • Soft ticks have many nymphal molts, and this number of nymphal states is not consistent within the same species. 
  • When a nymph finds a host, it will hang tight and feed on it for around five days. 
  • If this nymph has a Lyme disease infection from the host during its larva stage, it could infect the new host too. 

Adult: 

  • If the nymph saturates with blood, it will fall off its host and reach the adult life stage. 
  • The tick will look for its third and final host for feeding in this adult stage.
  • They feed on the blood from three different hosts during their entire lifetime. 
  • Humans become one of their hosts in either the nymph or adult stage.
  • Ticks will nest or begin mating based on the time of year and weather conditions. 
  • Male ticks die after mating with one or two females, and the female ticks will die after reproducing by laying thousands of eggs during the spring. 

Can Ticks Live Without A Host?

We know that ticks have four stages in the life cycle: eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adult ticks. They need a host to survive in all the stages, except the eggs. 

Tick larvae, nymphs, and full-grown adults need a host, such as a human or a wild animal, including birds and reptiles. 

But how long can ticks live without a host?

  • In the first stage, ticks’ eggs do not need a host to survive. 
  • When an adult female tick lays eggs, these eggs live without a host until they hatch into larvae. 
  • After hatching, they need to feed on blood for the rest of their life to survive.
  • Ticks in the larval, nymph, and adult stages can live for different time duration without a host. 
  • American dog ticks, common in North America, feed on dogs, humans, cattle, and other animals and live for around two years without a host.

Can Ticks Live Without Food?

An entomologist from Binghamton University in New York observed Argas brumpti – species of African tick close-up in the lab over 45 years, found that some of these ticks have survived as long as 27 years without food.

Generally, different tick species have different survival rates based on their stages of life.

  • Blacklegged ticks or deer ticks like white-tailed deer as their hosts when they are adult ticks. They generally feed once when these ticks are in the larvae or newborn stage. They live less than one year even without food. Adults can live for just under a year if they do not feed during that time. 
  • In the case of American dog ticks, they can survive longer than deer ticks. Larvae can survive for up to 540 days, and nymphs can live up to 584 days without food. An adult American dog tick can live 2-3 years (around 1,053 days) without food. 
  • Brown dog tick larvae can survive for eight months without food or water. In the nymph stage, brown dog ticks can live almost three months without food. Adult brown dog ticks can survive for around 18 months without feeding.
  • Female lone star tick larvae can go without a host for almost 279 days. As a nymph, The Lone star tick nymph can live over a year – up to 476 days – without food. An adult lone star tick can live without food for up to 430 days.
  • Rocky Mountain wood ticks larvae can live around 117 days without food. Rocky Mountain nymphs can survive for over 300 days without food, and as an adult, they can withstand even longer – up to 600 days.

Does The Tick Life Cycle Vary With The Place Where It Lives?

No. But different species have different qualities in them. Some may bite and transmit diseases to people, while some cause minor issues. Here are some major species of ticks prevalent all over the United States and in the World that may transmit diseases or cause a huge threat to mankind.

  • American dog ticks – You can find American dog ticks in the east of the Rocky Mountains, and they appear in limited areas on the Pacific Coast. They can transmit diseases like The Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. There is the highest risk of being bitten during spring and summer. Dog ticks adult females are likely to bite humans.
  • Black-legged ticks – You can find black-legged ticks across the eastern United States. They transmit diseases like Lyme disease, relapsing fever, and Powassan virus. The highest risk of being bitten by these ticks exists in the spring, summer, and fall. Adults search for a host even during winter when temperatures are above freezing. Nymphs and adult females like to bite humans.
  • Brown dog tick – You can find these types of ticks worldwide. They transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever (in the southwestern U.S. and the U.S. Mexican border). Ticks bite humans and other mammals, but the dog is the primary host for the brown dog tick in all of its life stages.
  • Gulf Coast tick – You can find Gulf Coast ticks in the Coastal areas – The Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. They transmit rickettsiosis, a form of spotted fever. Gulf Coast tick larvae and nymphs like to feed on birds and small rodents. But adult ticks like to feed on deer and other wildlife. 
  • Lone star tick – You can find lone star ticks in the southeastern and eastern United States. They transmit bacteria like Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii that cause ehrlichiosis, Heartland virus, tularemia, and STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness). They are aggressive ticks that bite humans, and their saliva gives us an irritating feeling, redness, and discomfort. 
  • Rocky Mountain wood tick – You can find Rocky Mountain wood ticks in the Rocky Mountain states and southwestern Canada. They transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, and tularemia. Larvae and nymphs like to feed on small rodents, but an adult tick feeds on large mammals and transmits the pathogen to humans.

Conclusion

You can see more sources about tick’s lifespan – some sources tell you that ticks can live around 24 hours without depending on a host. Some other sources tell you that they can live up to two years without food. But the fact is, their lifespan is dependent on some factors like conditions, species of tick, and the stage of their lifecycle.