Ticks are tiny external parasites that live on the blood of birds, mammals, sometimes reptiles, and amphibians. They belong to the class Arachnida. Ticks are not a single species, but they are diverse, with about 18 genera and 900 species. Unfortunately, ticks can pose a significant threat to your animals. Let’s learn more about them so you can understand the health effects they can have on your animals.
Different Types of Ticks
There are three families of ticks:
- Ixodidae or hard ticks
- Argasidae or soft ticks
- Nuttalliellidae or monotypic ticks
A ticks lifecycle consists of four stages:
They also have three types of lifestyles:
- Single host
- Two hosts
- Three hosts
How Do Ticks Live?
Ticks are ectoparasites and obligate hematophagous. That means they require blood to survive and move from one stage to the next. They can survive for a long time without food, but they will eventually die.
Many species attach to skin immediately, but some look for thinner skin. It requires anywhere from ten minutes to two hours for ticks to prepare to feed. Soft ticks feed quickly, typically biting and filling in a few minutes. They extract the blood by cutting into the host’s epidermis. They inject their saliva, which contains an anticoagulant agent hypostome. Tick saliva contains about 1,500 to 3,000 proteins, depending on the tick species. The proteins with anti-inflammatory attributes, called evasions, allow ticks to feed for eight to ten days without being noticed by the host animal.
Searching for Hosts
Ticks locate their hosts by identifying an animal or person’s breath and body odors, sensing body heat, precipitation, or vibrations. It is a common misconception that ticks jump onto the host or fall from trees. They can’t jump or fly due to their small body size. They climb on tall grasses, cling to them, and wait for a host to pass by. When they sense a host, they stick and transfer onto the host. Some tick species are predatory. They attack a host by recognizing concentrations of CO2 in the air. They live in sand, in cracks near animal dens or nests, or human residences.
Ticks are spread all over the world. They like warm and humid climates. Humid air is required for their metamorphosis, and cold air does not allow them to turn their eggs into larvae.
Ticks like to live in open woody areas and forests. Ticks like shadowy, humid leaves in the spring. They deposit their eggs into such places allowing larvae to appear in the fall and crawl into low-lying vegetation.
Ticks are found where their hosts are. Migratory birds can carry these ticks to new lands. Species of ticks transferred vary from season to season. The ecosystem for ticks depends upon two things:
- Population density of hosts
- Humidity of air
Common Disease Carried by Ticks
Ticks are notorious for spreading diseases. Ticks on animals cause significant damage to livestock by pathogenic transmission, causing damage to wool and hides. In humans, tick-borne illnesses that are transferred include fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Bourbon virus, and tick-borne meningoencephalitis. Lyme disease is another common disease spread by ticks. Due to the potential health problems that ticks can bring, finding ticks on your animals should be something you focus on when they’ve spent a reasonable amount of time outside.
Your local groomer can help you find ticks as early as possible with routine grooming.
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