Discover everything you need to know about ticks in our guide below.
What are Ticks?
Ticks (scientific name Ixodida) are small, spider-like creatures that usually live outdoors in brushy or wooded areas with rocks, logs, fallen leaves, and tall grass. Today, there are about 800 known species of ticks. The most common are the American dog tick or wood tick (Dermacenter variablis) and the blacklegged tick, formerly known as the deer tick (Ixodes variablis).
Ticks are problematic pests because they can bite humans and pets and because they carry and transmit a variety of diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, and more.
The Behavior, Diet, and Habits of Ticks
Ticks have two primary body shapes – either “hard,” meaning they have a rigid body shield, or “soft,” meaning they do not.
While there are hundreds of species worldwide, all ticks share some basic features: they have eight legs and rounded bodies that enlarge after a blood meal. The smallest ticks are only a few millimeters long, while the largest ticks can reach five or six millimeters long before becoming engorged.
Today, ticks live virtually everywhere in the US. The American dog tick is widespread east of the Rocky Mountains and in limited regions on the Pacific. The blacklegged tick, on the other hand, is common throughout the eastern US, while other species live throughout the entire country.
Most ticks live in densely wooded or bushy areas, and females need to obtain a blood meal to mate and sustain egg-laying. After the eggs have been laid, six-legged larvae hatch from them, climb up blades of grass, and wait for a suitable, warm-blooded host to pass by. This behavior is called “questing.”
They attach themselves to the host and feed on the host’s blood before detaching, molting, and becoming eight-legged nymphs. Ticks feed on blood at every life cycle stage, and adults can wait for a host for as long as three years.
What Damage Do Ticks Cause?
Ticks are primarily a parasite of large wild and domestic animals. While no species of tick is primarily a human parasite, some species do bite and transmit diseases to humans.
Hard ticks, specifically, can damage their hosts by removing large amounts of blood from the host’s body and injecting neurotoxins into the host’s bloodstream, which can result in paralysis or death.
How to Get Rid of Ticks
Getting rid of ticks on or around your property requires a multifaceted approach.
Since ticks are usually found in areas with tall grass or heavy brush, we recommend starting with habitat modification. Keep your lawn cut short, trim ornamental grasses and landscaping, and maintain shrubs on and around your property.
To protect yourself from ticks in brushy areas, use permethrin-based repellents, which can be sprayed onto clothing and which remain effective for several washes.
Since domestic pets can pick up ticks and bring them home to their owners, talk to your vet about topical tick preventatives for your pets. These products will kill and repel ticks on pets, making them less likely to introduce the biting pests into your home.
Deer are another common vector for ticks, so it’s important to control deer populations in your yard and around your property by installing deer fences and removing deer food sources.
If you’re facing a severe tick infestation that you can’t resolve on your own, you may need to hire a professional pest management company for help.
Read our complete guide on how to get rid of ticks.
It depends on the product you’ve used. If your vet recommended a topical option containing permethrin, the product will repel ticks and prevent attachment. If the product contains fipronil, it will not prevent tick attachment, so you may still see ticks on your pet. Fortunately, fipronil kills ticks that come into contact with it, so the pests will die shortly.
Never twist or jerk the tick, since this can cause the tick’s mouth-parts to separate from the body and remain in the skin. Instead, use fine-tipped tweezers to graph the tick’s body and pull it upward, out of the skin, with even, steady pressure.