Wednesday, June 12, 2013

All About Ticks

Those of you who know me are aware that I HATE BUGS.  I'm not sure which are worse:  deer flies, black flies, stable flies, no-see-ums, mosquitoes, or ticks. 

When you think about it, however, the flying insects are a complete nuisance, but ticks are just plain scary. 

Ticks are small arachnids (spider family).  They are external parasites that attach to and live off the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. They extract the blood by cutting a hole in the host's skin, into which they insert their hypostome, likely keeping the blood from clotting by excreting an anticoagulant.

Ticks are vectors of a number of diseases, including Lyme disease, Q fever, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, African tick bite fever, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Tick paralysis and tick-borne meningoencephalitis, as well as bovine anaplasmosis.

There are around 900 species of tick distributed around the world.  Although they can be found in numerous ecosystems in most countries, they tend to flourish more in areas with a warm, humid climate.  In order to complete their life cycle, they require a certain amount of moisture in the air to undergo metamorphosis.  They also require enough humidity to stay hydrated.  Also colder climates inhibit their development from egg to larva.

Ticks require there to be a large enough population density of host species in the area must be high enough.  Other influences on the number of ticks in an area are:  sandy soil, hardwood trees, rivers, and the presence of deer.  Ticks often cling to the end of pine needles, grass, or other vegetation and wait for a host to walk by.

Ticks have bodies which are divided into two primary sections: the anterior contains the head and mouth parts.  The posterior contains the legs, digestive tract, and reproductive organs.

A picture of ticks common to the U.P. is below.  Ticks can be found anywhere, but are most abundant in grassy areas such as fields or roadsides. Deer ticks are less than half the size of a wood tick and much rarer. The smaller tick carries more diseases.

Most ticks undergo three primary stages of development: larval, nymph, and adult.  It takes up to a year for most ticks to complete their life cycle.  Up to 3,000 eggs are laid on the ground by an adult female tick. When larvae emerge, they feed primarily on small mammals and birds. After feeding, they detach from their host and molt to nymphs on the ground, which then feed on larger hosts and molt to adults. Female adults attach to larger hosts, feed, and lay eggs, while males feed very little and occupy larger hosts primarily for mating.

Below is a USB microscope picture I took of the tick that was on me.  I kept it in a sealed vial.  The darn thing lived for many days before dying.

In general, the best way to remove a tick is to use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out with a steady upward force without crushing, jerking or twisting.  Any other method can leave behind mouth parts or provoke regurgitation of infective fluids into the wound.  Once the tick is removed, disinfect the bite area thoroughly and store the tick in case of signs or symptoms of a subsequent infection.

Ticks can be found in the U.P. from early Spring through September.


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