Ticks

Identification

  • Colour Brown and black to grey
  • Size About 3 to 5mm long
  • Description Have external mouthparts that extend from the head, four pairs of legs, no wings, and no antennae.

General Facts

Ticks belong to the same class as spiders and mites, characterized by having four pairs of legs and no antennae. Most are external parasites on mammals, birds, and reptiles and known vectors of various diseases to both humans and animals, domestic and wild. Ticks fall into two families, hard and soft ticks. Both categories flourish throughout North America, though the most commonly occurring types in Canada are hard ticks.

Types of Ticks in Canada

With over 850 species of ticks identified worldwide, the parasites may enter homes when feeding on household pets, which is particularly common with dogs. While some species may not survive indoors, some species such as brown dog ticks are capable of surviving and breeding indoors. Common tick species found throughout Canada include the black-legged tick, more commonly known as the deer tick, the brown dog tick, the American dog tick, and the Rocky Mountain wood tick.

Appearance

Commonly misidentified as an insect, a tick is not an insect but an arthropod. While insects possess three segmented body regions, six legs, and generally have wings, a tick lacks wings, only possesses two body regions, and has eight legs after reaching full maturity. Ticks have external mouthparts which extend from their heads. Unlike insects, which have heads capable of moving independently, the heads of ticks are fused to the thorax. The body, called an idiosoma, is the region that expands with blood when feeding. On hard ticks, the body is covered by a thick plate called a scutum. Males possess larger scuta than females, which restrict the expansion during blood feeding. Depending on the species, colouration may vary from browns and blacks to variations of greys and whites. Most ticks range in size comparable to a small seed to the size of a pea, though when engorged with blood, the arthropod may appear larger.

Habitat

Most species of ticks found throughout Canada typically occupy diverse habitats, ranging from densely wooded areas and forests to grasslands. However, the Rocky Mountain tick usually lives at higher elevations and prefers areas of brush in the foothills and mountain regions. Each species finds hosts in different ways, though all ticks are parasitic and need a host to survive. For instance, the American dog tick remains solitary by nature, moving from host to host between each developmental stage. The arthropod performs an act called questing in order to find new host animals. Climbing to the top of a blade of grass, the tick waits for a passing mammal and grasps on with a free pair of legs. Deer ticks utilize ambush techniques and wait for hosts to brush up against the object on which they are resting. Finally, the Rocky Mountain wood tick experiences stimuli from the environment, such as changes in humidity, temperature, and carbon dioxide levels, which typically represent the presence of a host.

Diet

Ticks feed exclusively on the blood of a variety of different animals, from warm-blooded creatures like mammals and birds to such cold-blooded animals as lizards. Ticks typically take a single blood meal at each stage of the life cycle. After engorging on the blood of the host, the tick will usually fall off and find shelter somewhere until the need to take another meal becomes imperative and the process starts all over again. However, most ticks may be able to live for long periods of time between feedings if necessary. Adult ticks generally need larger hosts such as dogs, rabbits, raccoons, mice, squirrels, and human beings.

Life Cycle

A tick goes through a similar life cycle as other arthropods, as the metamorphosis starts at the egg stage, moves to larval stages, then to the nymphal stage, and finally to adult. Each stage of the life cycle requires a blood meal to develop, and eggs typically hatch into six-legged larvae after a period of four to 10 days. A female may lay thousands upon thousands of eggs and then generally dies immediately after. Larvae fend for themselves, seeking a small blood meal upon hatching. Nymphs look like small adults, though they usually still only have six legs. The average life span of an adult tick ranges from one to three years and usually corresponds with the availability of a food source while proceeding through the maturation process.

Problems Caused by Ticks

Ticks are important vectors of disease; they carry bacteria and viruses known to cause serious illness in both humans and animals. American dog ticks are known carriers for such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. Tularemia acts as a severely infectious bacterial condition characterized by fever, weight loss, and ulcers at the site of the infection. In severe cases, the disease may prove fatal. Some of the more common diseases vectored by ticks include Lyme disease, which causes fatigue and may also lead to extreme problems with the central nervous system. Both animal and human hosts remain prone to tick paralysis, which may result in the loss of muscle function, most commonly associated with the reaction a person or animal may have to a neurotoxin produced in the salivary gland of the tick.

Tick Season

Ticks are blood-sucking parasites commonly found throughout Canada. Peak tick season for nymphs usually occurs during the spring and summer months, while adults are a threat in the late fall. The pests are usually found in wooded areas that provide ample shade or in areas overgrown with tall grasses. Certain species of ticks are known to transmit harmful diseases, including Lyme disease, to both humans and domesticated animals.

Preventive and Precautionary Measures

Ticks need access to skin in order to effectively bite and latch on to a host. When hiking or walking through areas that are likely to be infested with ticks, individuals should wear long-sleeve shirts and pull their socks over their pant legs to keep the pests off. Residents should also avoid wearing open-toed shoes, such as sandals or flip flops, when spending prolonged time outdoors during tick season. Do a full-body check before reentering the home to ensure no ticks have attached to your body or pets.

Tick Bites

Symptoms

Tick bite symptoms vary on a case by case basis. The exact symptoms depend on the species of tick and the severity of the allergic reaction to the bite. Tick bites frequently produce blisters or rashes on the skin of the victim. A distinctive red spot commonly develops at the site of the bite, as well. Other common symptoms of tick bites include uncoordinated movement and general weakness. The bites of certain tick species can also generate severe pain or swelling. In serious cases which demand immediate medical attention, tick bites may cause the victim to develop chest pain or heart palpitations, laboured breathing, a severe headache, or even paralysis. Medical attention should also be sought for the development of a fever, stiff neck, joint pain or muscle aches, sensitivity to light, swollen lymph nodes, or flu-like symptoms, as these indicators may signal the incubation of a tick-borne disease.
The risk of contracting disease from a tick bite remains high in areas known to support large populations of ticks. In fact, researchers contend that ticks spread more diseases than any other type of arthropod. Ticks spread disease by serving as vectors for bacterial, protozoan, and viral pathogens, which the biting ectoparasites transmit from one host to another. Canadians are increasingly exposed to the dangers of ticks as the parasitic pests become more prevalent across the country. Ticks in Canada transmit Lyme disease more commonly than other.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a serious illness capable of afflicting humans as well as pets. Symptoms range from little or no effects to recurring arthritis, numbness or paralysis, and problems with the nervous system. When left untreated, Lyme disease symptoms can persist for years and may even result in death, though fatalities are rare.

Black-legged Tick Bites

Black-legged ticks also remain capable of spreading pathogens that cause other illnesses. In addition to Lyme disease, the hazardous parasites have the ability to transmit Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA), human babesiosis, and encephalitis. Other tick species are known to spread disease in Canada as well.

Introduced to the country by migrating birds, Rocky Mountain wood ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), while American dog ticks spread tularaemia. The Public Health Agency of Canada identifies the southern areas of British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec as the primary locations where infected ticks are most commonly found in the country. Parts of Nova Scotia also support established populations of the potentially dangerous parasites.

Tick Diseases

Lyme Disease
Of all the diseases ticks carry, Lyme disease is the most common. This disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and spread via the bites of infected black-legged ticks, western black-legged ticks, and the tick species lxodes angustus, which has no common name. Early symptoms of Lyme disease include fatigue, fever, headaches, and rashes. If left untreated, it attacks the joints, nervous system, and heart.

Lyme disease is a serious illness capable of afflicting humans as well as pets. Symptoms range from little or no effects to recurring arthritis, numbness or paralysis, and problems with the nervous system. When left untreated, Lyme disease symptoms can persist for years and may even result in death, though fatalities are rare.

Lyme Disease Symptoms
Early symptoms of Lyme disease are flu-like. Infected individuals may experience fever, chills, sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea, and joint pain. Some more serious symptoms include numbness, swollen lymph nodes, muscle spasms, abnormal heartbeats, and cognitive dysfunction. Though cases can vary from person to person, the average individual starts experiencing symptoms within a few days. If left untreated for too long, the disease can cause permanent damage. Extreme cases may result in death.

Lyme Disease Treatment & Prevention
Seeking immediate medical attention and receiving a dose of oral antibiotics is usually enough to treat Lyme disease. In order to protect against ticks and Lyme disease, Canadians can follow a number of useful prevention tips. For example, when hiking, use an appropriately registered and approved bug repellent and wear close-toed shoes, long sleeves, and long pants. Tucking pants into socks limits the amount of exposed skin. Upon returning home after outdoor activity, and before going inside, perform a full-body search for ticks.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
American dog ticks and Rocky Mountain wood ticks spread another serious disease: Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Humans contract the virus when bitten by infected ticks. Symptoms vary from headaches and muscle pains to vomiting and rashes. The ailment can cause blood vessels to leak or form clots, which leads to inflammations of the brain, heart, or lungs. This tick disease can be fatal.

Other Diseases
Encephalitis is another tick-borne disease. While infections usually result in mild sickness, fatalities are still possible. The virus causes inflammation in the brain, flu-like symptoms, and seizures. Another tick disease, ehrlichia, is carried by lone star ticks and triggers respiratory and kidney failure in people if left untreated.

Prevention

The easiest way to manage tick infestations over large areas consists of proper landscaping techniques to exclude and provide an unsuitable environment for tick survival. Keeping grass mowed, getting rid of all leaf and weed litter, trimming tree branches, and managing pet activity may lead to less interaction with ticks. For serious tick infestations, various insecticidal treatments exist and may be purchased at local hardware stores or retail chains that carry such products. Since ticks carry possibly dangerous bacteria and viruses, anyone entering areas that may contain ticks should aim to protect themselves by wearing proper clothing, keeping shirts buttoned and tucked into pants, and wearing proper footwear. Additionally, some products may remain available for purchase to act as repellents, for both bare skin and clothing.

When infestation becomes a serious issue, home and business owners may want to consult a pest removal specialist.

 

Why do I have ticks?

Common tick species found in Canada include the black-legged tick, more commonly known as the deer tick, the brown dog tick, the American dog tick, and the Rocky Mountain wood tick.

Ticks prefer to live in densely wooded areas, forests and grasslands, although the Rocky Mountain tick prefers areas of brush at higher elevations.

Most ticks are external parasites on mammals, birds, and reptiles and need to suck the blood of their host to survive. When ticks enter homes, it's usually riding on a household pet.

To attach themselves to a host, ticks either grasp onto random animals as they pass over their habitat or lie wait for potential hosts to brush up against them.

After engorging on the blood of the host, the tick will usually fall off and find shelter somewhere until the need to take another meal becomes imperative.

How worried should I be about ticks?

Ticks carry bacteria and viruses known to cause serious illness in both humans and animals, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, a potentially fatal infectious bacterial condition characterized by fever, weight loss, and ulcers.

The blacklegged tick can also spread Lyme disease, which causes fatigue and may also lead to extreme problems with the central nervous system, and the neurotoxins they produce can cause tick paralysis and the loss of muscle function.


Ticks can breed exponentially, with females laying thousands of eggs in her lifetime. To protect your family and your pets, you need consult with a professional pest control service.

How can I prevent ticks invading?

Keep grass mowed, Remove all leaf and weed litter, Trim back tree branches, Manage outdoor pet activities, Wear protective clothing, Use tick repellents

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