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The Different Types Of Ticks And Their Habitats

The Different Types Of Ticks And Their Habitats

Ticks are external parasites that feed off of blood from animals such as humans, pets and livestock. They belong to a group of arthropods called mites and not insects or spiders.

There are two primary tick families: hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae). Hard ticks all have a protective shield on their back called a scutum, while soft ticks lack this feature.

Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes Scapularis)

Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes Scapularis)

  • Also known as deer ticks: are small and reddish-brown in color. They are commonly found in wooded areas, especially in the eastern and midwestern regions of the United States.
  • Primary host: white-tailed deer
  • Known to transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus

American Dog Tick (Dermacentor Variabilis)

American Dog Tick (Dermacentor Variabilis)

  • Found throughout most of the continental United States
  • Primary host: dogs, but will also feed on humans and other mammals
  • Known to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and tick paralysis

Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma Americanum)

Lone Star Tick
      • Found throughout the southeastern and eastern United States
      • Primary host: white-tailed deer, but will also feed on humans and other mammals
      • Known to transmit ehrlichiosis, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), and alpha-gal syndrome

      Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus Sanguineus)

      Brown Dog Tick

      • Found worldwide, but most commonly in warm and tropical regions
      • Primary host: dogs, but will also feed on humans and other mammals
      • Known to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine ehrlichiosis, and canine babesiosis

      Gulf Coast Tick (Amblyomma Maculatum)

        Gulf Coast Tick

        • Located on the coasts of the Gulf and Atlantic regions in the United States.
        • Primary host: white-tailed deer, but will also feed on humans and other mammals
        • Known to transmit Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis and Heartland virus

        Rocky Mountain Wood Tick (Dermacentor Andersoni)

        Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

          • Found primarily in the western United States, particularly in mountainous regions
          • Primary host: rodents, but will also feed on humans and other mammals
          • Known to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and tick paralysis

          Identifying the species of tick is crucial to assess the possible health hazards linked with a tick bite.

          If you discover a tick on yourself or your pet, it is advisable to eliminate it quickly with tweezers and consult a medical professional if any symptoms of a tick-borne disease appear.Tick Habitats

          Hard Ticks

          Hard Ticks Habitats

          Larvae, nymphs, and adult hard ticks feed primarily on vertebrate hosts. To locate and latch onto passing mammals, birds, and reptiles they use "questing," a behavior described as "questing".

          They sense host odors, vibrations, and carbon dioxide levels, as well as warm moist air currents for cues.

          Tick larvae and nymphs typically remain on the ground to feed on blood from hosts; however, some species climb up vegetation and grab onto a host. Ticks may attach themselves to the skin or hair of an individual and crawl onto it for protection.

          Ticks also engage in the behavior known as "molting." Nymphs molt to females during the fall and remain dormant until spring when they mate and lay hundreds to thousands of eggs.

          They molt again in the spring and are active again during fall and early summer. You may even spot them during wintertime when there are snowfalls or freezing temperatures.

          Ticks can be frequently found in habitats with woods and grass, but they may also exist in urban and suburban regions where people often spend time.

          Ticks prefer moist environments like logs, tall brushes, fallen branches, and grassy patches.

          These environments provide ideal conditions for ticks to reattach and seek new hosts, as well as a place to hide.

          Ticks commonly hide under leaf litter in wetlands or wooded areas, under bushes and trees in forests, on rocky or stone walls, or near wood piles.

          Tick abundance and distribution are affected by the microclimate, vegetation, and soil type. If there is a lack of winter snow cover and warm temperatures, an active adult tick could be found searching for a host in summer.

          Generally, hard ticks have a shorter lifespan compared to soft ticks, and it takes approximately two to three years for each stage of development.

          Once a larval tick hatches, it must acquire a blood meal to advance into its next stage, a six-legged nymph.

          Several factors can affect it, including the type of vegetation, soil conditions, microclimate, and temperature.

          Ticks tend to congregate in high-humidity areas but may succumb to desiccation during extreme heat or cold. They tend to nest in dense sheltered areas or crevices where they're protected from external elements.

          Many of these characteristics can be altered, leading to changes in tick density and abundance. These shifts may occur due to differences in plant diversity or changes to the abiotic environment (like soil moisture).

          Our study utilized NDVI to detect tick presence and used habitat type and plant diversity to predict tick abundance.

          We observed that both variables were significantly associated with adult A. maculatum tick abundance; however, the amount explained by NDVI was small and did not reliably explain their abundance or density.

          Soft Ticks

          Soft Ticks Habitats

          Measuring less than 30mm, soft ticks are arachnids that prefer warm surroundings and have close genetic ties to poultry mites.

          Soft ticks undergo four stages of development, namely egg, larva, nymph, and adult, which can span several months to years, depending on the species and prevailing climatic conditions.

          They can be distinguished from other arthropods by the presence of Haller's organ on one leg, which serves to detect carbon dioxide exhaled by potential hosts (warm-blooded animals) as they pass by the ticks.

          Ticks wait on vegetation for hosts to brush against it, then spread their legs and latch on.

          Their small legs and sense of carbon dioxide enable them to quickly climb up or move onto their host as needed.

          Tick larvae search for a host to attach themselves to and feed on for blood meals. They may remain attached for several days, but when their host has had enough, the ticks drop off.

          Once a tick has finished its meal, the adult female will detach from its host and lay eggs in an animal burrow or nest.

          These eggs hatch within a few weeks, but new ticks must feed again before they can progress into their next life stage.

          The eggs of soft ticks may be present in the cracks and crevices of various structures like houses, kennels, sheds, barns, caves, or other shelters utilized by birds.

          Additionally, they have been known to occupy animal hides, wool and faeces.

          A tick bite can lead to several symptoms like rash, joint swelling, headache, and fever, and in rare cases, it can cause encephalitis, which is the acute inflammation of the brain.

          Ticks can also spread various diseases to humans and pets, including Lyme disease, relapsing fever, and tularemia.

          Symptoms of these diseases include skin rash, redness, itching, muscle pain, stiffness, and fatigue.

          Certain individuals are more susceptible to tick-borne illnesses, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.

          Tick Life Cycles Explained

          source: Wikipedia

          The tick life cycle is a series of stages from egg to adult that can last two or three years.

          Each stage relies on feeding off of blood from an animal host; some species, like the brown dog tick, prefer having the same host animal throughout their entire cycle while others switch things up like black-legged ticks which transmit Lyme disease.

          Ticks progress through their life cycle by feeding on hosts such as mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians.

          This feeding allows them to progress through each stage and develop all of their body parts.

          Furthermore, ticks carry bacteria and other pathogens which they can then pass along when they feed again.

          For a tick to progress to the next stage in its life cycle, it must complete each stage successfully.

          The initial step involves an egg laid by an adult female; these hatch into larvae in summer after taking one blood meal from either a small mammal or bird and detaching and molting into their next stage: the nymph.

          Nymphs look like miniature adult ticks and have just started to sprout eight legs, enabling them to scamper around on the ground in search of their next blood meal.

          After molting again, these insects may return to the ground or continue seeking new prey until their host disappears, at which point their cycle will have come full circle.

          Once nymphs have found a blood meal, they will molt into adults during the fall and winter.

          After attaching themselves to something larger such as humans or deer, these smaller creatures often search for another host to continue developing.

          They typically wait outdoors on tall grasses or shrubs until a potential host passes by, then attach themselves and take advantage of any blood meal they can find.

          When they have enough energy for breeding and produce thousands of eggs, these predators will complete their cycle and leave behind no trace.

          The lifespan of nymphs can range from one or more years, contingent on the weather and the availability of feeding opportunities.

          Some nymphs become dormant for the season and won't molt into adults; others will molt into adults but then die, while others continue molting until they are ready to mate and lay eggs.

          Ticks are a major vector for diseases like Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Lyme disease. While the majority of these illnesses are transmitted by the black-legged tick, other tick species may also carry them.

          The tick's life cycle is dictated by several factors, including the saliva it produces (Wikel, 2017).

          In addition, the presence of ticks during this period is determined by whether or not their host becomes infected with disease-causing bacteria.

          Since ticks can survive in various temperatures, it is crucial to prevent tick bites during their larval or nymphal stages.

          Using tick repellents can also be helpful in reducing the risk of tick bites, particularly during the winter months when they are generally less active.

          Tick-Borne Diseases

          Tick Diseases

          Tick-Borne Diseases are infections spread to humans by ticks that have bitten an infected animal. Ticks act as vectors, carrying various pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and spirochetes.

          Three of the most common tick-borne illnesses in the United States are babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis.

          Additionally, other illnesses like the Powassan virus (POWv), Heartland virus, Bourbon virus, and Colorado tick fever virus may also strike within our borders.

          Lyme Disease

          The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease, and it can be transmitted by deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Symptoms typically manifest 3 to 30 days after exposure to an infected tick bite.

          Early symptoms include an itching, warm rash that looks like a bull's eye rash with rings spreading from the bite site (erythema migrans). This rash may last anywhere from days to weeks.

          Aside from rash, Lyme disease can also cause additional symptoms such as headache, fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.

          Failure to treat the infection could result in more severe medical problems, including neurological issues like Bell's palsy or facial paralysis, arthritis, heart problems, and other complications.

          Anaplasmosis

          Anaplasmosis is an infection spread through tick bites. Most people who contract it will experience mild symptoms and recover quickly, although some may experience more serious reactions.

          Prompt treatment is recommended if you experience any symptoms of anaplasmosis.

          An individual with anaplasmosis typically starts feeling symptoms within a few weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Generally, fever and other signs resolve after antibiotic treatment begins.

          Babesiosis

          Babesiosis is caused by a parasitic microorganism that infects red blood cells, resulting in an infection. Depending on the species of Babesia and the host's immune status, this illness may be mild or severe.

          Infection is spread through the bite of an infected Lxodes scapularis tick, also known as a black-legged or deer tick.

          This type of tick attaches itself to hosts for 36-72 hours before transmitting sporozoites into host erythrocytes.

          Infected erythrocytes are removed from the bloodstream by macrophages located in the spleen's marginal zone, thereby averting the spread of the infection to other organs.

          Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

          RMSF, caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, is spread to humans and animals through tick bites infected with this bacteria.

          Common tick species include American dog ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, and brown dog ticks.

          If someone is infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), they may experience early symptoms such as high fever, headaches, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

          Furthermore, most patients develop an unusual pinkish-hued rash that appears mainly on the wrists and ankles.

          Treatment for RMSF includes antibiotics: The most commonly prescribed antibiotic is doxycycline, which belongs to the family of tetracycline drugs.

          Powassan Virus

          Powassan virus disease is a rare but serious illness caused by a tick-borne virus. It belongs to a family of viruses that can infect the brain or membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) with infection.

          The primary mode of transmission for Powassan virus is via the bite of an infected black-legged tick, commonly found in wooded areas.

          Powassan virus infection can be devastating, leading to meningitis or encephalitis. Unfortunately, approximately one out of 10 cases of severe Powassan virus infection is fatal and those that survive often face long-term health challenges.

          Tularemia

          Tularemia, caused by Francisella tularensis, is an infectious illness that can be transmitted through tick bites, direct contact with animals, or inhaling contaminated dust and aerosols.

          Symptoms of tularemia include fever, headache, body aches, vomiting, and diarrhea.
           

          In severe cases, tularemia may spread to lymph nodes and the lungs.

          Preventing Lyme disease begins with avoiding tick bites that spread the bacteria. Additionally, use insect repellent with 20%-30% DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 when out in the woods or hiking. 

          Tips For Preventing Tick Bites and Tick-Borne Diseases

          Tips For Preventing Tick Bites and Tick-Borne Diseases

          Tick bites are a common issue for people and pets, especially in areas with high tick populations. If not treated promptly, tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Powassan (POW), Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia can all have fatal consequences.

          TICKS CONTINUE TO EXPLODE INTO THE WILDERNESS

          Ticks typically inhabit wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. Ticks tend to be most active from spring through fall, so take precautions by avoiding these areas when outdoors; for instance, walk in the center of trails for added exposure.

          Tip #1 - Tuck Clothing into Socks to Reduce Tick Exposure

          Tuck your shirts and pants into socks or use tape around openings in your clothes so ticks cannot get in. Doing this reduces their exposure time on your skin, decreasing the chance of being bitten by a tick.

          Tip #2 - Apply Insect Repellents to Clothing and Gear

          Tick repellents that contain 20-30% DEET are recommended for protection against ticks on exposed skin. These products should be applied to clothes and gear prior to going outside, then reapplied every two hours thereafter.

          To prevent tick bites, wear long pants and sleeves; tuck shirts into pants and socks; and opt for light-colored clothing so you can easily spot a tick. When leaving the outdoors, wash and dry your clothing and gear immediately to eliminate any remaining ticks.

          Tip #3 - Tweezers or Tick Removal Tool

          When an attached tick is found, use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool to grasp it close to its attachment site and pull it upward with steady pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick as this may cause its mouth parts to break off and remain in your skin.

          If tweezers or another tool isn't available, use fingers shielded with tissue paper or rubber gloves to grasp and remove the tick. Avoid handling with bare hands as this could squeeze, crush, or puncture its body and spread infectious fluids to yourself or your pet.

          Tip #4 - Tweezers or Tick Removers

          Once you've taken off the tick, rinse it with water to disinfect the area and wash your hands.

          If you find it difficult to remove the tick, you should place it in a Ziplock bag for testing later. Alternatively, you can dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet or submerging it in rubbing alcohol to completely destroy it.

          Ticks often remain attached for several days before they can transmit disease to your body, so when you come home do a full body tick search on yourself and family members. Make sure that even pets' coats and day packs have been checked for ticks.

          Read more: Ticks on Dogs: Q&A

          Finding Ticks on Your Dog: 5 Places to Look

          Top 5 Ways to Fight Fleas and Ticks