The animal kingdom is full of weird and wonderful things of all sizes- including parasites. Parasites come in many different forms and sizes, and one that you may encounter on a somewhat regular basis if you spend a lot of time outdoors is ticks. In this article we’re going to be diving into all sorts of facts about ticks.
Despite what you may feel towards ticks, other insects or parasites- ticks play their part in their ecosystems just like any other living thing does. However, ticks can carry diseases that are harmful to humans and other animals, including our pets, so it is important to have the facts straight about these organisms.
Twelve facts about ticks
1. Ticks are arachnids
Since ticks are in the arachnida class, it means that they are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than they are to other arthropods like ants, termites, beetles or other insects.
Like other arachnids, ticks have four pairs of legs (eight legs total), have a cephalothorax (fused head and thorax), and do not have antennae or wings.
2. Ticks feed on blood
Ticks feed exclusively on blood. They need to have a blood meal at every stage in their lifecycle to survive once they have hatched. They will feed on the blood of mammals, reptiles, birds, and humans. Without a blood meal, the tick will not be able to move onto the next phase of their life cycle.
3. Ticks have four stages in their life cycle
The full life cycle of a tick can take up to three or four years to complete. Ticks start out as eggs, then move to the larval phase, and then to the nymph stage and then finally reach adulthood.
Ticks are not born with any diseases, but instead pick up infectious diseases from their hosts where they get their blood meals, but it is not until the lymph or adult phase that they can spread these diseases.
4. Ticks can carry harmful infectious diseases
For some people, just the thought of a tick boring into your skin and sucking your blood is enough to creep them out. But the real scary thing about ticks is that they are common carriers of harmful diseases such as lyme disease which causes a bacterial infection, babesiosis which infects red blood cells, and anaplasmosis which is transmitted via bacteria and can cause fever, muscle aches, and chills.
5. Ticks don’t jump
It is widely believed that ticks jump onto their unsuspecting host. In reality, ticks will very slowly crawl onto their hosts. Ticks are often very small and can be hard to see, so it is easy to not realize when they are “sneaking” up on you.
Oftentimes, ticks will be in tall grasses or vegetation and hitch a ride onto their host and then slowly crawl up to where they will attempt to attach to their host.
6. Ticks are found in all 50 states
Ticks can be found everywhere in the United States, even in Alaska where many people believe it is too cold for them to survive. However there are certain parts of the United States that are more prone to diseases carried by ticks.
The Northeast is the arguably the worst for Lyme disease with the top five states with the most cases (as of 2016) being Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
7. Ticks don’t die off in the winter
Ticks can live up to two to three years, so in parts of the country where it gets cold in the winter, they don’t just die off. However, when temperatures drop below freezing, not all ticks will survive, but the healthy and hearty ones will.
That being said, ticks are inactive when temperatures drop below 35 degrees and essentially hibernate. This means that risk of disease transmission is much, much lower in the winter months in the cooler, more temperate states.
8. Ticks help to regulate wildlife populations
While many people consider ticks to be terrible, useless little parasites- they actually help to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Ticks carrying diseases can pass these diseases onto animals and help keep populations in check when animals like deer or rabbits become too numerous.
This helps to “weed out” weaker and sicker individuals so that there are more resources for animals that are fit to pass on their genes.
9. Ticks can act as ecosystem indicators
Ecosystem indicators are essentially signs of an ecosystem’s health. Certain species can be used to track ecosystem health depending on their presence and abundances.
While a healthy ecosystem is likely to have ticks present, an excess number of ticks can be a sign of an unhealthy ecosystem. If a habitat is absolutely overrun with ticks, it probably means that tick predator populations are not doing so hot.
10. It takes at least one day to transfer disease
Once a tick has latched on to you, you have between 24-48 hours before it is actually able to spread bacterial pathogens that cause Lyme disease. This is why it is so important to check yourself, clothes and pets after walking in an area where ticks are present.
11. Ticks can cause the development of an allergy to red meat
The Lonestar tick has an interesting effect on a small number of people. Some people that are bitten by Lonestar ticks have since developed an allergy to red meat, even if they had previously been avid meat-eaters.
Luckily, these cases are rare despite the Lonestar tick being one of the tick species attributed to the most bites in states like Virginia.
12. Ticks have many predators
Ticks are eaten by a wide variety of animals such as opossums, birds, frogs, squirrels, insects, and lizards. And while they are not direct predators of ticks, snakes are known to ingest many ticks through way of eating them when they eat tick-carrying mammals like rodents or other small mammals.