What does it look like?
There are two kinds of ticks—soft ticks and hard ticks. Hard ticks have a hard shield-like plate (scutum) covering part of the back. Soft ticks do not have this. Ticks do not have a segmented body. The 2 main body parts are fused together. There are tiny openings (spiracles) on each side for breathing.
Ticks have 8 legs which are covered with short spines. There is a tiny claw at the end of the legs. Ticks use their legs for walking, climbing, and holding. A pit near the end of the front legs is used to smell nearby prey. The eyes are behind its front legs.
Mouthparts include organs of touch and taste (palps), jaws (chelicerae), and a needle-like barb (hypostome). Palps cover and protect the hypostome. They move out of the way for feeding.
Ticks have a stretchy membrane on the outside so they can bend and move, and expand when they feed.
American Dog Ticks have an oval, flattened shape. They are brown with whitish-to-gray markings. They can range in size from less than ¼ inch to a little over ½ inch. Brown Dog Ticks are reddish-brown and have no noticeable markings. They are about 1/8 inch long. Males are smaller than females.
Gulf Coast Ticks are about ¼ inch long. Females have white, interrupted stripes on their back. Males are dark brown with silvery white lines.
Lone Star Ticks are brown. Adults are about 1/8 inch in length. Males have white streaks or spots around the top edges of the body. Females have a white spot near the center of the back.
Pacific Coast Ticks are relatively flat and pear-shaped. They are mottled grey, black, and brown. Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks have a bright red, teardrop-shaped body. Males have gray and white spots. Females have a white shield-shaped spot on the back.
Female Western Black-Legged Ticks are about 1/8 of an inch long. They have a black back and dark, reddish abdomen. Males have a blackish abdomen and are slightly smaller than females.
Where does it live?
There are almost nine hundred tick species. Ninety species are found in the continental United States.
American Dog Ticks live east of the Rocky Mountains. They are also found in parts of Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and Mexico. .
Brown Dog Ticks are found worldwide. They are more common in warmer climates. They live on wildlife, on dogs, in kennels, and houses. They can survive indoors and outdoors.
Cayenne Ticks are found from the southern United States to northern Argentina. They are found throughout Central America and some parts of the Caribbean. They prefer grassy areas where they can find large hosts like horses.
Pacific Coast Ticks can be found from Oregon and California south to Baja and Mexico. They live along trails and dense thickets of shrubs (chaparrals).
Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks live in lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains. They are found in wooded areas, shrubs, grasslands, and footpaths. They rest on tips of grasses and shrubs waiting for a host to come near. They are most common in the late spring and early summer.
Gulf Coast Ticks are found in North and South America and on some of the Caribbean islands. Western Black-Legged Ticks are found along the west coast of the United States. They occur throughout Washington, Oregon, California, and parts of Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Idaho.
Winter Ticks are found through much of Canada and the United States. They range from the Yukon Territory in the north to the Mexican border in the south. They live in a wide variety of habitats. Winter Ticks prefer forested areas where moose are found.
What does it eat?
Ticks feed on the blood of a host. A host is a creature that provides a “blood meal”. Hosts can be birds, reptiles, mammals, and humans. Some ticks feed on different hosts at different life stages.
American Dog Ticks are normally found on dogs. Sometimes they feed on cattle, horses, and humans. Brown Dog Ticks feed on many kinds of mammals. They prefer dog hosts in the United States.
Gulf Coast Ticks feed on large mammals like white-tailed deer, cattle, horses, swine, and humans. Sometimes they attach to birds. Cayenne Ticks feed on horses.
Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks and Pacific Coast Ticks feed on medium to large mammals. Nymphs feed on small animals like rodents. Western Black-Legged Ticks feed on wild rodents and other mammals.
Winter Ticks are called “one-host ticks” because they spend their entire life on the same host. They are usually found on moose and deer.
How does it defend itself?
Hard ticks have hard, armored bodies to protect them from predators. Bodies of soft ticks are more vulnerable. The fur or hair of the host acts as camouflage to keep ticks hidden. Ticks are often attached to a place that the host cannot reach, such as inside ears or on the head.
What stages of metamorphosis does it go through?
Hard tick adults stay on their host when they mate. Males die after mating. The female dies after laying one large mass of hundreds to thousands of eggs. Adult soft ticks leave the host to mate. Male and female soft ticks may feed and mate a number of times before dying. Females lay small clusters of 20 to 50 eggs.
Ticks develop through four stages of life: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. All stages except the egg need to feed on a host. Most ticks die before they are able to find a host. A tick may take 3 years to become an adult and reproduce.
Female Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks feed for 4-17 days. Then they leave the host to lay eggs. There are sometimes 6,000 eggs in a cluster.
What special behavior does it exhibit?
Ticks breathe through tiny openings along their body (spiracles). They only need to breathe a few times each hour. So, they are able to survive a long time under water.
Adult Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks can survive for up to 600 days without feeding. In favorable conditions, Lone Star Ticks can survive 8 months to 2 years without food.
A hard tick’s saliva makes a kind of glue that sticks it to the host while it feeds. Adult hard ticks stay on their host when they mate. Soft ticks leave their host to mate.
A tick’s body temperature depends on the temperature around it. It must stay warm to be active.
How does this bug affect people?
Ticks live off other living things. They are called “parasites.” Ticks get food by sucking blood from a host. While feeding, they can pass on diseases that make people and animals sick.
American Dog Ticks transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Rabbit Fever, and canine tick paralysis. Adult females are most likely to bite people, especially during spring and summer.
Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks and Lone Star Ticks cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Rabbit Fever.
Pacific Coast Ticks transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Rabbit Fever to cats, dogs and humans. They also carry diseases to cattle, deer and ponies.
Cayenne Ticks transmit disease to horses and humans.
Gulf Coast Ticks cause serious diseases in humans and animals.
The Western Black-Legged Tick causes Lyme disease, relapsing fever, and Powassan virus disease. Its bite creates a characteristic bull’s eye rash. Winter Ticks are not a threat to human health, but they harm wildlife. Deer and other large mammals easily remove ticks during grooming. Moose are more at risk because they have trouble removing the ticks. Moose get heavy infestations of ticks that cause blood loss, skin irritation, and hair loss. They stop eating and lose weight. One moose can become host to over 100,000 Winter Ticks. Heavy infestations often cause death.
Markle, S. (2011). Ticks: Dangerous hitchhikers. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Company.