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Ticks

Facts, Identification & Control

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 / Identification

What Do Ticks Look Like?

american dog tick image

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.

See more pictures of ticks
Identification Summary

  • Vary in size depending on species and sex; usually about 3 mm in length prior to feeding
  • Are generally reddish-brown in colour
  • Have a total of 8 visible legs as adults
  • Can be leathery (soft ticks) or hard (hard ticks)

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.

Read about Tick Bites.

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.

More Information on Ticks:

Black Legged Ticks

Pictures of Ticks

Tick Bites

Tick Diseases

Tick Season

Ticks and Lyme Disease