Ticks...bloodsucking, disease-spreading parasites.  Unless you are looking for Lyme disease, there is no positive to having a tick on your person.   This spring has been a bona fide tick season, and all indicators point to a population explosion for these creepy crawlers in the coming months.  

Ticks operate mostly by using their sense of smell.  They climb to the top of a blade of grass or plant and stick their front legs up in the air, waiting for the scent of a victim to walk by....this is called "questing".   While questing, ticks cling to leaves and grasses by their third and fourth pairs of legs. They hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to grasp and climb on to any passing host. Their front pair of legs have what are called Haller's organs, which detect smell, temperature, movement and carbon dioxide. Proximate biochemical signals, such as rising carbon dioxide levels emitted by a warm blooded mammal, alert the ticks to passing hosts.   Since it is well known that they like warmth and moisture, they are waiting for a warm, moist environment to call their home. 

note-Some folks believe that ticks do not drop from trees  or blow in the wind and that if you find one on your head, then it crawled there.  I disagree.  I don't put anything past a tick!  I have zero trust that anyone really knows what makes them "tick"...except surely blood is what they are after and they are very patient.  

Ticks satisfy all of their nutritional requirements as ectoparasites, feeding on a diet of blood. They are obligate hematophages, needing blood to survive and move from one stage of life to another. Ticks can fast for long periods but eventually die if unable to find a host.

Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive.  Again this is called  "questing," and ticks use these behaviors to find their first host for an initial blood meal. After filling with blood over several days, the seed ticks fall to the ground again, where they molt (shed their outer skins) and become eight-legged nymphs.

 

The nymph will then lie in wait for a second host to attach to and engorge on blood. The nymphs prefer a larger animal as a host, such as a raccoon or possum. Following engorgement, nymphs drop to the ground where they molt yet again to finally become adult ticks. The adult ticks then go on a hunt for a third, even larger host, such as a deer or dog, where they are able to feed and then breed, resulting in reproduction (i.e., eggs).

Ticks that require this many hosts can take up to 3 years to complete their full life cycle, and most will die because they don’t find a host for their next feeding.

You could potentially stumble upon tick eggs in the forests of Massachusetts.   The adult female tick will take its last blood meal to gain nutrients needed to lay 1500-2000 eggs before dying. These eggs will remain in leaf litter until hatching into tick larvae where they will attach themselves onto small rodents or some bird species. Larvae will get their first blood meal from the rodent, allowing them to molt from larvae to nymph form. This first blood meal is many times when a tick becomes infected with a pathogen (such as Borrelia burgdorferi which causes Lyme disease) that can allow them to spread tick-borne diseases to their next host. 

note- 1500-2000 eggs per tick!!!!  Check out the article in the menu under "In The News" to see the photo a mom shared of 150+ seed ticks she pulled off her daughter.  Her daughter was sick with "flu symptoms" within 24 hours and and was treated.  

Ticks transmit pathogens that cause disease through the process of feeding.

  • Depending on the tick species and its stage of life, preparing to feed can take from 10 minutes to 2 hours. When the tick finds a feeding spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface.

  • The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached during the meal. The feeding tube can have barbs which help keep the tick in place.

  • Ticks also can secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so that the animal or person can't feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed.

  • A tick will suck the blood slowly for several days. If the host animal has a bloodborne infection, the tick will ingest the pathogens with the blood.

  • Small amounts of saliva from the tick may also enter the skin of the host animal during the feeding process. If the tick contains a pathogen, the organism may be transmitted to the host animal in this way.

  • After feeding, most ticks will drop off and prepare for the next life stage. At its next feeding, it can then transmit an acquired disease to the new host.

Another Important Fact-

 Ticks can be active even in the winter

That's right! Adult stage deer ticks become active every year after the first frost. They're not killed by freezing temperatures, and while other ticks enter a feeding diapause as day-lengths get shorter, deer ticks will be active any winter day that the ground is not snow-covered or frozen. This surprises people, especially during a January thaw or early spring day. Remember this fact and hopefully you'll never be caught off-guard.

How ticks spread disease

Ticks transmit pathogens that cause disease through the process of feeding.

  • Depending on the tick species and its stage of life, preparing to feed can take from 10 minutes to 2 hours. When the tick finds a feeding spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface.

  • The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached during the meal. The feeding tube can have barbs which help keep the tick in place.

  • Ticks also can secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so that the animal or person can't feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed.

  • A tick will suck the blood slowly for several days. If the host animal has a bloodborne infection, the tick will ingest the pathogens with the blood.

  • Small amounts of saliva from the tick may also enter the skin of the host animal during the feeding process. If the tick contains a pathogen, the organism may be transmitted to the host animal in this way.

  • After feeding, most ticks will drop off and prepare for the next life stage. At its next feeding, it can then transmit an acquired disease to the new host.

In the United States, some ticks carry pathogens that can cause human disease, including:

  • Anaplasmosis is transmitted to humans by tick bites primarily from the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern and upper midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.

  • Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Most human cases of babesiosis in the U.S. are caused by Babesia microti. Babesia microti is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and is found primarily in the northeast and upper midwest.

  • Borrelia mayonii infection has recently been described as a cause of illness in the upper midwestern United States. It has been found in blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Borrelia mayonii is a new species and is the only species besides B. burgdorferi known to cause Lyme disease in North America.

  • Borrelia miyamotoi infection has recently been described as a cause of illness in the U.S. It is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and has a range similar to that of Lyme disease.

  • Colorado tick fever is caused by a virus transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni). It occurs in the the Rocky Mountain states at elevations of 4,000 to 10,500 feet.

  • Ehrlichiosis is transmitted to humans by the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum), found primarily in the southcentral and eastern U.S.

  • Heartland virus infection has been identified in eight patients in Missouri and Tennessee as of March 2014. Studies suggest that Lone Star ticks may transmit the virus. It is unknown if the virus may be found in other areas of the U.S.

  • Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern U.S. and upper midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.

  • Powassan disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the groundhog tick (Ixodes cookei). Cases have been reported primarily from northeastern states and the Great Lakes region.

  • Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis is transmitted to humans by the Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum).

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is transmitted by the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sangunineus) in the U.S. The brown dog tick and other tick species are associated with RMSF in Central and South America.

  • STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness) is transmitted via bites from the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum), found in the southeastern and eastern U.S.

  • Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected soft ticks. TBRF has been reported in 15 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming and is associated with sleeping in rustic cabins and vacation homes.

  • Tularemia is transmitted to humans by the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Tularemia occurs throughout the U.S.

  • 364D rickettsiosis (Rickettsia phillipi, proposed) is transmitted to humans by the Pacific Coast tick (Dermacentor occidentalis ticks). This is a new disease that has been found in California.

TICKS- Nasty Vampires

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