Scientific studies suggest ticks have been around for at least 90 million years. They come under the category of spiders (Class of Arthropods). There are almost 800 species of ticks. Only two are known to transmit diseases. These are Ixodidae and Argasidae. One of the most well-known diseases transmitted by ticks is Lyme disease. Read further to know more about ticks, anatomy, and the tick diseases, and how to prevent tick diseases.
Ticks are hard to spot due to their small sizes. Ticks, just like spiders, have eight legs. They have oval bodies which inflate whenever they feed. Because of their small size, they are hard to spot because even adult ticks are only 3-5mm in length. If they have just been fed, they will appear inflated. Since it is hard to spot them, they can transmit nearly 65 diseases.
Ticks, in simple words, are parasites that feed off the blood from their prey (which largely includes warm-blooded animals). Their hosts range from deers to humans. Once they spot their host to feed on, they tend to look for softer areas of their host’s skin to suck blood. It might wander around the host’s body a while to find the said soft spot. The soft spot usually ends up being around the host’s hairline, around skin folds, and behind their ears.
Ticks will use its mouth to cut through the host’s skin and inject a feeding tube through the cut it made, which serves as an anchor, to suck blood till it’s full. Similar to lice and mosquito bites, tick bites do not hurt when a tick feeds off a host’s body. They usually find out when their skin turns red or starts to itch. In contrast to popular belief, ticks do not live on their host’s body.
A tick is most likely to fall off the host post-feeding because of its inflated size. The host will only find out about it because of the itch and red skin. The tick usually falls off on its own in a few days. On some occasions, it can take a few weeks. They are spotted outdoors in woody and grassy regions.
Ticks are more prominent in warm and humid regions. It provides them with the necessary moisture to carry out metamorphosis. “Metamorphosis is the process of a great and usually rather sudden change in the form and habits of some animals during the transformation from an immature stage (as a caterpillar) to an adult stage (as a butterfly).” (Source: Merriam-webster)
Ticks are considered similar to mosquitoes but they are classified under Arachnida because ticks have similar characteristics like spiders and scorpions. One feature where ticks’ anatomy stands out more than mosquitoes and even spiders is the lack of segmentation. While an insect’s body is segmented into three parts and a spider’s body is segmented into two parts (cephalothorax and the abdomen). A tick’s body lacks segmentation in the abdomen and is completely flat. Parasitic Arachnids have an abdomen fused with the cephalothorax (or prosoma).
The lack of segmentation makes it easier for ticks to latch onto a host discreetly and feed themselves without the host noticing. They are extremely small with spines in their legs. Along with the mentioned lack of segmentation, the presence of these spines makes it easier for ticks to latch onto their host and to be able to hold onto grass, leaves, and more. Their legs have short spine hairs with a tiny claw at the end.
Types of Ticks
There are mainly two types of ticks. Hard and soft ticks. While hard ticks have a plate that covers their back like a shield known as scutum, soft ticks lack it. Adult ticks sport oval bodies. Their mouthparts and organs which allow them to suck their hosts’ blood vary from species to species. In general, a tick’s mouth consists of two palps, two chelicerae, and a needlelike hypostome. The two palps specifically do not pierce the host’s skin.
Both soft and hard ticks possess mouthparts but they are only visible on soft ticks when you look at their underside. The projection at the end of the hypostome points towards the tick which is why it is difficult to remove a tick from the skin once spotted without damaging the skin of the host. Some ticks secrete a substance with their saliva that cements it to the host and only dissolves when the tick is ready to abandon the host post-feeding. This makes it harder to remove a tick after the substance has cemented itself.
Additionally, ticks also release an antiseptic along with their saliva because of which the host is unable to actively detect the presence of a feeding tick. The secreted substance does not include compounds that lead to itching and swelling.
Body Structure of Male and Female Ticks
A tick’s body is known as idiosoma which inflates varying amounts when a tick feeds. Male hard ticks have a full scutum till their backs which restricts how much they can feed. On the other hand, female hard ticks possess a half scutum that allows them to swell immensely and store blood which is required of them to lay eggs. Soft ticks do not possess a scutum to get in the way of feeding so they can inflate a lot but since they do not need to store blood to lay eggs they sell less compared to hard ticks.
Ticks use the tiny openings along their bodies known as spiracles to breathe in air. Compared to most creatures they have a lower requirement for oxygen and they only tend to breathe one or fifteen times an hour.
Hard and soft ticks have differing behaviors. Hard ticks survive well in habitats that can provide them with multiple hosts ranging from lizards to mammals. Areas they prefer are moist woodlands, areas surrounding the edge of the forest, and areas along hiking trails. They practice questing (as mentioned briefly in the anatomy section) to find food. A hard tick that is questing positions itself on a grass blade or top of shrubs. The spines in their legs allow them to easily attach themselves to grass blades while stretching the front pairs of their legs outward and consequently latch onto a host. Since ticks lack the physical ability to jump or fly, questing allows them to cling and feed off a host the moment the host brushes past the tick.
On the other hand, soft ticks present a different feeding behavior. They tend to live in other animals’ nests and burrows. The female ticks will lay their eggs in their hosts’ nests. From there the larvae, nymphs and adults will crawl out in search of hosts to feed off. The relative height they quest from depends on the life cycle the tick is in. Larvae quest from the ground level while nymphs climb as much as they can to catch slightly bigger hosts. Adult ticks on the other hand climb the highest so that they latch onto large animals.
With most feeding at night, they try to spend as little time as possible attached to the host. Soft ticks finish feeding in a very small amount of time (as long as it takes a flea to feed) while hard ticks might take a few days. The saliva and its components play a key role in biting, feeding, and transmission. Research is still going on to find out a vaccine that can effectively combat the work of the saliva.
How Ticks Transmit Diseases?
Ticks feed off their host through a feeding tube they insert into their body. The tube is inserted through the cut made by the tick using its chelicerae. Through this feeding process, ticks transmit diseases. Ticks find hosts through prey through the potential host’s body odor, breath, vibrations, body heat, and sometimes even their shadows. Ticks also retain the ability to identify the route consistently taken by their potential host. They wait for the opportunity to latch onto their hosts by holding on and resting on tips of grasses and shrubs using their third and fourth pair of legs since they cannot fly. The position in which they wait is known as questing.
The speed at which a tick feeds varies depending on the species and living species. Depending on these factors, it can take anywhere between ten minutes and a few hours.
Since the transmitted diseases are vector-borne infections, it is important to note what happens if the tick feeds off a host who is already diagnosed with a blood-borne infection. In this situation, the tick will end up ingesting the pathogens from its host and pass them along to its future host. After feeding, the tick will fall off and prepare for its next life stage. The tick goes to feed again saliva from it carrying the pathogen from its previous host can enter the new host and spread the acquired disease.
Apart from Lyme disease and Rocky Spotted Mountain Fever, ticks cause a multitude of diseases. Ten diseases caused by ticks are as follows
- Lyme Disease
Caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii, black-legged ticks transmit it to humans. Deer ticks usually carry this bacterium. Symptoms include a rash resembling the shape of a bullseye along with flu-like symptoms. Usually, Lyme disease is treated using a course of antibiotics that lasts anywhere between two to four weeks. Most who recover from Lyme disease, post-treatment, continue to experience mild symptoms (pain, fatigue, and more) for up to six months. If left untreated, it can cause Chronic Joint Inflammation, multiple neurological symptoms, and cognitive defects. It’s mostly common in the states of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and more.
- Powassan Disease
It is a viral infection that spreads faster than Lyme disease caused by the Powassan Virus. In most people the infection is mild but in severe cases, it can be life-threatening and symptoms like memory loss can be permanent. Most people with the virus tend to be asymptomatic. The virus has an incubation period of a month and symptoms usually present themselves during this time. The symptoms tend to be severe with one out of ten people with a severe case of Powassan virus succumbing to death. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, headaches, infection in the brain or the membrane surrounding the spinal cord. Currently, there is no treatment available for the virus. Those diagnosed usually need to be hospitalized to receive support to manage symptoms. It is most commonly found in the Great Lakes region and the Northeastern states.
- TBE (Tick-Borne Encephalitis)
It is a viral infection that directly affects the central nervous system. It is caused by the tick-borne encephalitis virus which is a part of the Flaviviridae family. The Flaviviridae family includes multiple tick-borne viruses that affect humans. The virus is transmitted from hard ticks from the Ixodidae family and also serves as reservoirs for the virus. The virus is transmitted most when tick activity is the highest. This period ranges from April to November. The incubation period is fourteen days. It has flu-like symptoms but it can have long-term consequences. Multiple people suffer from long-term consequences which can last for a few months or prove to be chronic. This includes permanent paralysis, cognitive changes, and muscle weakness. There is no specific treatment for TBE. Those with TBE require hospitalization and are provided with supportive care. To be on the safer side it is better to be vaccinated against TBE if you live in tick endemic areas.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is also a bacterial infection caused by the organism Rickettsia rickettsii which can prove to be deadly if not detected and treated early. The tick carrying this bacteria is likely to infect a person if it feeds off for at least six hours. They are most active outdoors during spring and summers and usually hide in tall grasses. Female ticks are most likely to bite humans and cause infection. In the absence of immediate treatment, the bacterium can damage primary organs such as one’s heart. The incubation period for the bacterium is fourteen days. Since the initial symptoms can mimic those of other diseases, one needs to be prompt and careful. It is appropriate to see a doctor after being bit by a tick. Doctors usually treat Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever using antibiotics. Additionally, what one needs to remember is that it is not contagious but will require immediate treatment to prevent severe complications.
- Heartland Virus
Also known as Heartland Bandavirus, it is a phlebovirus of the Bhanja virus serocomplex. It is transmitted when Lone Star ticks are feeding. Symptoms include diarrhea, a decreased appetite, fatigue, and muscle pain. The virus can prove to be fatal and lead to a disseminated infection resulting in organ failure. At the moment there is no known treatment for the virus. Those with symptoms are usually hospitalized to manage their health.
- Colorado Tick Fever
It is a rare viral disease. The virus is spread from the bite of an infected Rocky Mountain wood tick. The incubation of the virus is fourteen days. Symptoms range from fever, chills, body aches to a sore throat, abdominal pain, and vomiting. In general, it is not life-threatening but rare cases with severe symptoms lead to the virus damaging the central nervous system. If diagnosed you are likely to recover completely followed by a short period of weakness and fatigue. There is no medication for the virus itself. If hospitalized, you will be treated with intravenous fluids and medication to manage symptoms.
Tularemia is an infectious disease caused by the Francisella Tularensis bacterium. It mainly affects animals like rabbits and squirrels but it can also attack humans. It possesses the potential to attack an organism’s eyes, skin, lungs, and lymph nodes. In humans it can affect the central nervous system, heart, and as mentioned the liver resulting in diseases like Meningitis, Endocarditis, and Hepatitis. The incubation period of the bacterium varies from three to fourteen days. The symptoms greatly vary with some infected individuals being asymptomatic while some experience severe symptoms that include the onset of flu-like symptoms. Antibiotics are mostly used to treat Tularemia for a period of ten to twenty-one days depending on the stage of the infection and the medication used. Symptoms tend to last a few weeks but most patients make a full recovery. Antibiotics are mostly used to treat Tularemia for a period of ten to twenty-one days depending on the stage of the infection and the medication used. Symptoms tend to last a few weeks but most patients make a full recovery.
- Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF)
More prominent in the western part of the US, in states of California, Washington, and Colorado, TBRF is accompanied by a high fever. It is most common in forests in mountains and residing in rustic cabins. This fever usually goes away after a few days but returns after a week. There are three strains of bacteria behind this disease: B. hermsii, B. parkeri, and B. turicatae. The infection is spread through the bites of soft ticks that reside in the nests of small animals. They stay on the host for fifteen to thirty minutes. After finishing feeding off their host they drop off. Their bites are painless which means the chances of you discovering the bite are low. Additional symptoms include nausea, vomiting, confusion, neck pain, joint pain, diarrhea, and more. Doctors usually take a sample of your blood to check for TBRF. Most of the time it gets better on its own. Doctors usually prescribe you a course of antibiotics to effectively kill the bacteria. If prescribed with antibiotics, your doctor will have you under observation for the initial hours after you take the antibiotics. The majority of people who take antibiotics for TBRF prescribed by their doctor find their symptoms getting worse. It is called the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction which is believed to be an effect of the toxins released by the bacteria as it dies. TBRF can result in lifelong complications in rare cases such as loss of hearing or loss of vision.
Caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum, black-legged ticks mostly carry and transmit this infection. The incubation period is two weeks and early symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, and severe headaches. In case immediate treatment is not provided or if you have a prior medical condition, the symptoms tend to get severe. This includes respiratory problems, bleeding, and organ failure. Late treatment can also result in death. Patients who are older or have a weakened immune system are likely to experience a severe case of the illness. Early treatment is conducted using Doxycycline. It helps prevent death and avoids a worse case of the disease. Do check if you are allergic to doxycycline. An allergy to doxycycline can be life-threatening. Use of any antibiotics other than doxycycline can prove to be life-threatening.
A group of diseases caused by the bacteria Ehrlichiosis chaffeensis, E. ewingii, and E. Muris Eauclairnsis is known as Ehrlichiosis. These are spread through the bite of infected lone stars and black-legged ticks. The incubation period is two weeks. Symptoms include fever, headaches, and muscle aches. Many also develop a rash within five days of being bitten which is preceded by a fever. You are most likely infected if you fall sick after spending time outdoors in grassy and woody areas. If treatment is delayed it can lead to severe complications and chronic after-effects. This includes uncontrolled bleeding, inflammation of the brain and surrounding tissues, organ failure, and respiratory issues. Untreated Ehrlichiosis or delayed treatment can also result in death. Ehrlichiosis is mainly treated with the use of doxycycline to prevent severe infection and lower the chances of death. Do check if you are allergic to doxycycline.
Where Can You Find Ticks?
Ticks live in humid and moist environments but multiple species of ticks can adapt to different types of environments. They prefer areas with grass and shrubs while living close to their hosts. Almost all species of ticks live outdoors except for Brown Dog Tick which reproduces indoors. Other species such as the Lone Star Tick prefer to lay their eggs outdoors on ground soil. In the US, parts of the South, Midwest, and California have the majority of cases of tick-borne Lyme disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is common in the Rocky Mountains and its surrounding areas. Digital maps can help understand tick activity throughout different regions.
How To Take Care Of A Tick Bite?
- If you find a tick on your body and wish you could remove it but you will need to be careful.
- Wear gloves and use a pair of forceps with fine tips or a pair of tweezers to gently remove the tick from your skin.
- To pull out the tick, use a slow upward motion.
- Be careful not to twist or squeeze the tick. Remove as much as possible.
- In case certain mouthparts remain, do not try to forcibly remove them.
- Your body will naturally expel them. Note that ticks should not be handled with bare hands and petroleum jelly or nail polish should not be used to remove ticks.
- Petroleum jelly and nail polish only smother the tick and can make it release infected fluids into the wound.
- It can not help you remove it hence, experts suggest you avoid their use. Warm water and soap should be used to wash the bite site.
- You can also use an iodine scrub or rubbing alcohol. Take a picture of the tick or seal it in a container since it would be beneficial for your doctor in case you develop severe symptoms. It will help them to analyze the bite better.
Seeking Medical Care
Tick bites are mostly painless. Symptoms usually present themselves as minor changes switch as a sore, swelling, or a change in color of the bitten area. Sometimes it can even go unnoticed. But multiple ticks are capable of transmitting diseases. In such a scenario, a small bite can lead to severe symptoms of a possibly deadly disease. Bacteria transmitted via ticks can cause varying diseases. For the transmission of Lyme disease, the tick needs to be attached to the host for at least thirty-six hours while multiple other infections can be transmitted within the span of a few minutes.
Most times a tick (while attached to the host) can go unnoticed. Post a tick bite, a small bump is expected to develop. In case it develops into a rash of any kind, it might be a symptom of Lyme disease. The risk of contracting any sort of disease from a tick primarily depends on where you live, where you travel to, and how much time you are outdoors. A rash is likely to appear within fourteen days of the tick bite and might be followed by strong flu-like symptoms and a severe headache. Not all tick bites result in infection but at any point, you believe your tick bite is infected, which includes experiencing pain, substance oozing out or a change in color of the bitten region, it is time to visit a doctor. Most treatments include a course of antibiotics.
In case you develop severe symptoms soon after getting bitten such as a severe headache, heart palpitations, and are experiencing difficulty breathing, it is better to call 911(or your local emergency number).
Types of Ticks
Contrary to popular belief not all ticks bite and transmit diseases. But the ones who do carry with them contagious diseases. Adult ticks are considerably easiest to identify. Some of the ticks around us, living outdoors, that transmit various contagious diseases are
- Dermacentor Variabilis (American Dog Tick)
Dog ticks are present in most regions of North America, making their home on the East Coast and the Rocky Mountains. They are present everywhere ranging from forest edges and areas with little to no tree cover to sidewalks and walkways. They tend to feed on only three hosts throughout their life cycle. Without a host, dog ticks are expected to survive two years per life cycle stage. When selecting a host, adult dog ticks choose medium-sized hosts such as canids while dog ticks in the larvae and nymph stages of their life cycle end up choosing small mammals. After the nymph becomes an adult, the adult male will mate with the female adult who is well fed. The female will then use the blood as energy to lay thousands of eggs and then die after those eggs hatch. Commonly, adult female dog ticks attack humans. In the early stages, they tend to feed on small animals such as mice. They are called dog ticks because they are mostly found on dogs. Dog ticks are most likely to transmit Tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
The highest risk of being bitten by an American dog tick is in spring and summer. Because of their big size and decorated dorsal shield, they are easy to recognize. Their bodies are covered with red and brown dots throughout its body which makes it easier to distinguish them.
- Rhipicephalus Sanguineus (Brown Dog Tick)
Though the primary host for this tick is dogs, many end up biting humans. Unlike most species of ticks, brown dog ticks can be found indoors. They are found throughout the US, as well as, worldwide. They prefer areas densely populated by humans and dogs. In southern regions of the US, they are found year-round. Their identification standpoint is their brown bodies. Their capituli that comes as a sharp outward point on either side also serves as a noticeable feature.
Since they can survive indoors for the entirety of their lifecycle it can lead to severe infestation problems with just a few ticks. They are known to transmit multiple diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in humans and Canine ehrlichiosis in dogs. These ticks can survive up to five months without a host. It follows the three-stage feeding pattern as well but it will feed on the same host throughout its life. For this, they will try to live in the same house. They will drop off their host post-feeding and then molt into their next stage. Since they live indoors, they are active throughout the year and their cycle is different from most ticks. The cycle can be completed in two months as well.
- Ixodes Scapularis (Blacklegged Tick)
Also known as the deer tick, it is an ectoparasite and carrier of multiple diseases. This includes Babesiosis (flu-like symptoms, goes away on its own in a maximum of two weeks and those who do require treatment are subject to antimicrobial treatment which shows improvement in forty-eight hours), Bartonellosis (mild to severe symptoms which include fever, brain fog, headaches, swollen glands around the head, neck, and brain; the incubation period is fourteen days; it is treated with antibiotic therapy), Borrelia miyamotoi (symptoms include fever, fatigue, severe headaches, and chills; treated with a two to four-week course of doxycycline), Anaplasmosis and Lyme disease.
Female adult black-legged ticks can be identified from their reddish-brown body and their back graced with a black shield. Even though they are present in all the 48 states and Alaska they are most prominent in the area between the East Coast and Texas. It is important to know that these ticks need shade and a lot of moisture to survive. The rate of infection in humans is low. Usually, nymphs and adults bite humans. Nymph bites, specifically, cause the highest number of infections in humans. This is because it is easier for a nymph to go unnoticed while an adult tick might be discovered and removed during feeding. Only female adult ticks transmit infections because male adult ticks do not feed on blood.
- Ixodes Pacificus (Western Blacklegged Tick)
The western black-legged tick is more commonly found in the West Coast (Oregon, California, and Washington) in the US. They are similar to deer ticks and have a reddish color with a narrow mouth. Adult females target humans while larvae and nymphs tend to stick to smaller animals for blood. They transmit Babesiosis, Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Borrelia miyamotoi. The activity period of nymphs is May to August while adult ticks are active during the fall. Nymphs need to feed during their activity period so that they can molt into adults. Western Blacklegged ticks go through three life stages. Their life cycle can last up to three years just like deer ticks. The duration of their life cycle solely depends on how long it takes them to find a host at each stage.
- Dermacentor Andersoni (Rocky Mountain Wood Tick)
They have a similar appearance to the American dog tick. Their stand-out feature is their tear-shaped body which is bright red. Males sport white and grey spots all over their bodies while females have a white-colored shield. They can cause multiple diseases, the most prominent being tick paralysis. The ability to cause tick paralysis is inherited and hence only present in a select few populations. It is caused by the neurotoxin present in their saliva. If the tick stays attached and feeds for a long enough time, it will pass on the toxin to the host. The paralysis will start at the feet and spread to the rest of the body. It lasts at least twenty-four hours. The symptoms should subside in two days if the tick was discovered and removed early but if not, it can lead to complications. In case the toxin reaches the lungs, the paralysis will lead to breathing complications. In the early stages, it is treated using doxycycline. The tick can also cause diseases like Tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Colorado Fever. It is mostly found in the Rocky Mountain states (South Dakota, New Mexico, California, Nebraska, and Arizona).
- Amblyomma Maculatum (Gulf Coast Tick)
These ticks like to reside in grass prairies and coastal uplands. They are found in the southeastern coastal states that border the Gulf Coast. This starts in southeastern Texas, Oklahoma and moves East to the Atlantic and North to Virginia. Cases are also found in the parts of the country but the numbers are small. They prefer dry environments as compared to other tick species that thrive in moisture. These ticks have a three-host life cycle. They need to feed at every life stage to survive. Early life stages feed on small mammals and birds while later life stages prefer larger hosts. This includes humans, bears, dogs, and cattle. Based on the location of the ticks the activity period per life cycle stage varies. Gulf Coast ticks found inland are active from February to October. Adults are most active in April, nymphs in July, and larvae in June. Ticks found along the coast have an activity period that lasts from May to March. Larvae are active in December, Nymphs in January and adults in August. On the other hand, the ticks in Florida have an activity period that ranges from February to September. It is easy to identify them by the decorated marks on their red bodies. Adult female ticks have white marks on their dorsal shield while adult males have white lines that form a weblike structure on their bodies.
They are capable of transferring Rickettsia parkeri which results in Rickettsiosis (symptoms include fever, rash, and headaches, similar to RMSF; it is treated with a course of doxycycline) in humans. Additionally, they can cause tick paralysis.
- Amblyomma (Lone Star Tick)
Earlier, lone star tick was only found in the Southern states of the US but they have spread northward and now are also found in the forest areas from the Midwest ranging to the East Coast.
They are easy to recognize because of the white dot present on the dorsal shield of females. Adult lone star ticks have a round reddish-brown appearance with prominent festoons. Like most ticks, they also have a three-stage life cycle and favor residing in wooded areas. They are known carriers of diseases such as Human Monocytic Ehrlichiosis, STARI, Heartland Virus, and Tularemia. Also, they are carriers of Lyme Disease but research shows are unable to pass it on to their host. Nymph and adult females are most likely to bite humans. Sensing vibrations and carbon dioxide allow them to seek their hosts. They are considered to be more aggressive than other tick species.
Recently, it has been observed that the bite of a lone star tick has resulted in an allergic reaction to red meat multiple times. This is known as the Alpha-Gel syndrome. How is it caused? The saliva of the tick, whether or not it is carrying a pathogen, can cause the allergy if bitten. Their saliva has Alpha-Gal present it which has a similar structure to the carbohydrates in red meat. If the tick is attached and fed long enough, the saliva can enter your body. In this case, your body will create antibodies against Alpha-Gak carbohydrates. Since the structure is similar to the carbohydrate in red meat, the antibodies will mistake red meat carbohydrate for Alpha-Gal carbohydrate. This will lead to an allergic reaction.
Ticks primarily go through four stages in their life namely egg, followed by a six-legged larva then an eight-legged nymph, and finally an adult tick. They need to consume blood at every stage because of this most ticks are unable to complete their life cycle since they are unable to find a host and feed themselves when needed.
- The First Stage (egg)
After an adult female tick has fed itself it will mate with an adult male tick. Post mating, the female tick then leaves the body of the host to find a spot to lay eggs. Most female ticks tend to lay eggs in spring.
- The Second Stage (larva)
After the eggs hatch, it marks the beginning of the second stage, that is, the transformation to a six-legged larva, in summer. This usually happens in the span of two to eight weeks. The larva stays on ground level looking for a suitable host. If during this stage the larva gets infected with Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease), it will carry it for the rest of its life cycle. This also means that it would possess the ability to pass on the bacterium to its future host, hence spreading the disease. The next stage can not begin till the larva feeds itself. Post finding and latching onto a host, the larva will feed itself, detach itself from the host, and proceed to molt.
- Third Stage (nymph)
After the larva goes through molting for around two weeks, it transforms into an eight-legged nymph during summer. Now the nymph searches for a suitable host to feed on so that the next stage of its life cycle can begin. After a nymph has fed itself for a few days and detached itself from its host, it will transition into an adult.
- Fourth Stage (adult)
When a nymph transforms into an adult, the tick is now sexually mature. It is time for it to look for its final host. Usually, female ticks take longer than male ticks when it comes to feeding at this stage. This is because female ticks store blood which is required for laying eggs. Male and female hard ticks first feed themselves sufficiently on their final host before mating. When they feed and mate depends on the season. Male adult ticks tend to die after mating while female adult ticks lay eggs. Shortly after laying thousands of eggs, the female adult dies. Thus ending its life cycle.
White Spots Under Ticks
Contrary to popular belief when talking about white spots on ticks, it doesn’t necessarily always refer to Lone Star Ticks. Female Adult Lone Star Ticks are one of the most easily identified ticks because of the characteristic white dot present on the top of the tick (on their scutum). But some ticks develop a white spot on their underside.
What does it mean?
The white spot on their underside forms in a tick’s rectal sac after it starts to digest blood and is an accumulation of guanine crystals. Any species of tick can sport it. Unfed ticks do not possess these white spots.
These spots make tick identification easier. Specifically in larvae and nymphs as it points towards the position of their anus. On one hand, black-legged ticks have their anus positioned posteriorly, lone star ticks have their anus centrally positioned. The white spot will highlight these positions.
Preventing Tick Bites
The most important thing is to prevent a tick from coming in contact with your skin. For this, you can follow a few simple tips.
Firstly use chemical repellents that contain DEET, permethrin, or picaridin. When outdoors in woody areas wear light-colored clothing. This will allow you to see the tick if it is on you. Make sure your clothes cover your arms and legs.
Preferably tuck in your pants in your socks for extra protection. You could also use tape around the openings of your clothes. Along with this, you should keep to the center of the trail. This way you are less likely to come in contact with questing ticks who tend to stay in shrubs, bushes, and tall grass. When you return, check yourself for ticks and if possible ask someone to do it for you as well.
Run a fine-tooth comb through your hair to catch ticks, if any, in your hair. Additionally, shower and wash your clothes at high heat to kill any ticks on you that went undetected when you checked.
TICOVAC™ (tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) vaccine) is the only FDA-approved vaccine in the US for immunization against TBE. It protects adults and children who are visiting or living in tick-infested areas. Marketed under the name TICOVAC™ in the US, Pfizer’s TBE vaccine has shown great results. Reactions to the vaccine are usually mild and include tenderness, headache, fever, fatigue, and muscle pain. For safety purposes, it is advised not to give this vaccine to anyone who has a severe allergic reaction to any component in the vaccine. Additionally, the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in pregnant women are unknown.
Currently, there is no definite solution to ticks. All that can be done is take preventive measures seriously to avoid getting bitten and avoid infestation. There are no vaccines available for ticks outside one and most tick bite imposed diseases lack treatment. Preventive measures need to be taken from your side to lower the chances of getting bitten as much as possible. Get vaccinated for TBE if you are living in tick endemic areas with a high rate of TBE. Studying more about ticks, their identification, and what you can do in case of a tick bite will help you be more prepared.