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Appearance and Size Facts

  • Ticks have four pairs of legs as adults and no antennae
  • Vary in color by species
  • Two groups of ticks, sometimes called the hard ticks and soft ticks
  • Hard ticks, like the common dog tick, have a hard shield just behind the mouthparts. Ehen unfed, are shaped like a flat seed
  • Soft ticks do not have the hard shield and they are shaped like a large raisin
  • Size: Adult ticks range in size from 1/8 inch to 5/8 inch in length

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Behavior and Habitat of Ticks

Most species of ticks feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and reptiles. Ticks are not insects, such as fleas, but are actually arachnids, more related to spiders, scorpions, and mites. They have a four-stage life cycle: eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults. Depending on its species, a tick may take less than a year or up to several years to go through its four-stage life cycle. While ticks need a blood meal at each stage after hatching, some species can survive years without feeding.

Ticks are commonly found near wooded or vegetated areas. They need an area with high humidity (to maintain moisture balance) and a mix of animal species to act as hosts.

Hard ticks seek hosts by an interesting behavior called “questing.” Questing ticks crawl up the stems of grass or shrubs, or perch on the edges of leaves on the ground, with their front legs extended. Carbon dioxide, heat, and/or movement serve as stimuli for questing behavior. Subsequently, these ticks climb onto a potential host which brushes against their extended front legs or drop down onto a potential host from a high perching area when shadows/movement are observed.

Signs of Infestation of Ticks

Ticks carry and transmit many dangerous diseases. They vector many diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Tick Paralysis, Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA) [formerly known as Human Granulocytic Ehrlichiosis (HGE)], STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness), Lyme Disease, and Tularemia.

Tips for Prevention of Ticks

Wear a light colored long sleeved shirt and pants when in an area where ticks are common. Tuck pants into socks and use tick repellent. Be sure to keep grass cut to an acceptable level to reduce tick populations. Using a prescription or over-the-counter acaricide for dogs or cats can also help to reduce tick populations. Before using an acaricide, consult a veterinarian before choosing a particular product.