Five Freaky Facts About Ticks

Updated on October 12, 2016
The Dirt Farmer profile image

Jill volunteers at community gardens and learns about gardening through the MD Master Gardening and Master Naturalist programs.

Ixodes ticks have hard shells.
Ixodes ticks have hard shells. | Source

If you've ever owned a dog, worked in the yard, taken a walk through the woods or gone camping, you've probably encountered at least one tick during the course of your lifetime.

And you probably know at least a few facts about ticks—that they're blood-suckers; that they feed on mammals, including humans; and that they sometimes carry Lyme Disease.

But did you also know that ticks belong to the same predatory group of insects as spiders? That's right! Ticks are arachnids.

Like mites and centipedes, they belong to the Arachnida class of the phylum Arthropoda. In their adult and nymph stages of development, ticks have four pairs of legs, as all arachnids do (Malinoski 102; "Ticks").

But there's more to ticks than creepy family connections, a thirst for blood and an unpleasant relationship with debilitating illness. In some ways ticks are practically superheroes of the insect world (evil superheroes, that is) with a thirst for adventure and some, well ... pretty amazing super-tick powers.

Chemical Warfare

Ticks often inject their hosts with nerve poison.

If you've ever been bitten by a tick but didn't feel it, it's not because you're insensitive (no matter what your significant other says).

The fact is that sometimes ticks inject anaesthetic into their host's bloodstream, a sort of nerve poison that contains neurotoxins.

Although some people have an allergic reaction to the toxin, for most of us, it acts as a very local anaesthetic, preventing us from feeling the bite—and the subsequent bloodsucking (Davis and Stoppler).

Adult hard-shelled ticks often position themselves on the tips of grass  when seeking hosts.
Adult hard-shelled ticks often position themselves on the tips of grass when seeking hosts. | Source

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Daredevil-like Behavior

Adult hard-shelled ticks find hosts through a process called questing.

If they weren't bloodsucking pests, ticks would seem (almost) noble in the way that they go about finding hosts.

Although they can't hop, fly or run, ticks do have two abilities, for want of a better word: crawling and dropping. And they use these dubious "skills" to their greatest advantage in order to fill their little bellies with blood.

First they crawl up plants, usually grasses and shrubs, until they reach dizzying heights—at least from a tick's perspective. Then they crawl to even more precarious territory, positioning themselves on the tips of grass blades, the extreme edges of branches, the outermost ends of leaves.

And they wait.

And wait.

And wait.

What prompts ticks next is anybody's guess. Is it courage? Bloodlust? Carelessness? I like to think it's a sense of adventure, but perhaps it's merely instinct that causes them to fling themselves toward the warmth of any carbon-based life form that happens to wander by, i.e. you, your dog, a white-tailed deer, a mouse, etc. (Rains).

Crawling, waiting, dropping—that's questing. (Even the word sounds heroic, doesn't it?)

It's a tremendous leap of faith.

Sometimes questing pans out for a tick. If the tick is hard-shelled, like a deer tick, it will feed on its host's blood for as long as it needs to in order to complete any part of its 3-stage life cycle. Most soft-shelled ticks, on the other hand, only feed off hosts for a day at most (Davis and Stoppler).

Tick Super Glue

Hard-shelled ticks secrete a sort of "tick cement," a glue-like substance that helps them stick to hosts.

Ever wonder why ticks are so difficult to remove once they clamp onto your skin? In addition to using their mouthparts to latch onto hosts, they also secrete a gooey substance called cementum. (Think Spiderman and his web shooters.)

Cementum helps ticks attach their feeding tubes, which are often barbed, firmly into their hosts, allowing them to hang on tight (Davis and Stoppler; "Ticks").

Ewww!

Surviving the Hard Times

Some ticks can live for a really long time without food.

Instead of starving to death when they can't find a host to feed upon, sometimes ticks go into a sort of stasis until the situation improves.

Ticks You Might Meet

Most of us will ordinarily encounter only 2 types of ticks at most: hard-shelled & soft-shelled. Of the two, you're least likely to meet those from the soft-shelled family, Argasidae. They feed primarily on chickens, mice & bats (Lee).

Hard-shelled ticks of the Ixodidae family are much more likely to make your acquaintance. They live in woodlands, yards and on pets ("Managing").

Adult deer ticks and bear ticks, for instance, become dormant in the winter if they haven't been able to find a host in the fall. In spring, when chances are better that they'll find a good meal, they "reawaken" and recommence their quest ("Blacklegged Ticks").

According to a publication by Urban Integrated Pest Management in the Southern Region called "Ticks," deer and bear ticks aren't alone in their super-tick ability to survive starvation. American dog tick larvae can live up to 540 days without a meal, and dog tick nymphs can survive as many as 584 days without food.

Adult brown dog ticks are somewhat competitive, lasting up to 200 days without even a drop of blood to sustain them.

Soft ticks, like this female, are members of the family Argasidae.
Soft ticks, like this female, are members of the family Argasidae. | Source

Wreaking Havoc

Ticks carry a remarkable number of dangerous diseases in addition to Lyme Disease.

World-wide, ticks are second only to mosquitoes as disease vectors or carriers. In the United States, they're the most common vectors, probably due to numerous outbreaks of Lyme Disease (Davis and Stoppler).

Ticks can carry numerous disease-causing pathogens at one time—bacteria, spirochetes, rickettsiae, protozoa, viruses, nematodes, toxins, etc. In other words, they're loaded with the potential to cause lots of dangerous illnesses. And they can transmit multiple disease-carrying pathogens with a single bite. These diseases include Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis, Lyme Disease, Relapsing Fever, Rickettsia parkeri Rickettsiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness), 364D Rickettsiosis and Tularemia ("Tickborne Diseases"; "Tickborne Diseases of the U.S.).


Works Cited

"Blacklegged Ticks (Deer Tick, Bear Tick)." Minnesota Department of Health. 14 January 2011. MDH. 28 August 2012. Web.

Davis, Charles Patrick and Melissa Conrad Stoppler. "Ticks." EMedicineHealth. 2012. WebMD. 27 August 2012. Web.

Lee, Susan. "Did You Know That Some Ticks Can Also Bite Humans?" Examiner.com. 8 Sept. 2011. 28 August 2012. Web.

Malinoski, Mary Kay. "Entomology." MD Master Gardener Handbook. University of Maryland Extension. September 2008. 91-104. Print.

"Managing Common Tick Pests in Los Angeles County." County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health. 29 August 2012. Web.

Rains, Bernie. "Tiny, Tenacious, Terrible Ticks." MDCOnline. 19 November 2010. Missouri Department of Conservation. 28 August 2012. Web.

"Tickborne Diseases." National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 15 February 2011. US Department of Health and Human Services. 28 August 2012. Web.

"Tickborne Diseases of the U.S." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States Government. 26 August 2012. Web.

"Ticks." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. United States Government. 26 August 2012. Web.

"Ticks." Urban Integrated Pest Management in the Southern Region. 27 August 2012. Web.


Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Jill Spencer

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      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Hi Jackie. I didn't know that garlic could be used as tick repellant. (My ancient cat smells like cheese, so a bit of garlic would only improve his aroma.) Thanks for commenting! --Jill

        Hey ElleBee! I'm just thankful that ticks are small. Can you imagine how gross they'd be if they were, say ... the size of a hamster--or even a bee? ICK!

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Hi Vespa! I really enjoy reading your cooking hubs. Thanks for commenting & sharing this article. --Jill

      • profile image

        ElleBee 

        6 years ago

        Yuck! I don't know if this made me or less afraid of ticks. I had heard some of these facts before, but somehow seeing them all in one place seemed even grosser. Hopefully this winter won't be quite as mild as last, so that our tick season won't be as bad!

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 

        6 years ago from The Beautiful South

        Really interesting. Such a bad ugly thing to have so many chances, gee...My son use to have problems with them when he had horses.

        I use garlic for my cat to prevent fleas and ticks and I know many poo poo it but she will be 18 in February and never gets either.

      • vespawoolf profile image

        vespawoolf 

        6 years ago from Peru, South America

        This is a fascinating and well-written article! I had no idea ticks could remain dormat for so long. I did suspect the wait and drop method, but had never heard about the "super glue" that keeps them stuck on their victim. There's a large park in front of our house we avoid like the plague because it's full of ticks! The poor dogs often become unwitting victims. Very interesting...voted up and shared.

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Hi Derdriu! Good to hear from you. We use Frontline on our dog, and it really keeps the ticks at bay. (The ones we do find on him are dead.) I do believe there's Frontline for cats, too, so Gusty is in luck. Thanks for stopping by! --Jill

      • profile image

        Derdriu 

        6 years ago

        Jill, They certainly are determined little arachnids, aren't they? Is there such a thing as an effective tick repellant for cats and dogs? My Maine Coon kittycat Gusty is loved by all who meet her -- unfortunately even the ticks who from time to time try to make the interaction permanent by attaching themselves to her neck!

        Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing such valuable information in such winsome ways, Derdriu

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Awesome, Pamela-anne. I learned a lot in researching this hub article, too. Glad you stopped by to comment. Take care, Jill

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Hey, OldRoses! So happy you enjoyed it. Thanks for the comments! (: --Jill

        @ Farmer Rachel-- OMG, the tick pictures really are gross, aren't they? I'll never get pinned! If only I could find a few tick glamour shots to put up.

      • Pamela-anne profile image

        Pamela-anne 

        6 years ago from Miller Lake

        Thanks for the informative hub I certainly learned more about ticks than I knew especially that they are in the spider family thanks for sharing!

      • Farmer Rachel profile image

        Rachel Koski 

        6 years ago from Pennsylvania, now farming in Minnesota

        Ewww... We have a real tick problem this year, probably due to the mild winter. I went 23 years of life without ever having a tick on me, and have had 5 since the spring. Hate them. Nice hub, though :) Voted up and interesting (I would pin it, but the pictures are too gross, haha).

      • OldRoses profile image

        Caren White 

        6 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

        Tick super powers - hahahahahahaha! This is the best hub of yours that I've read (so far). Through the use of humor you conveyed a lot of possibly boring information while keeping readers' attention. Great, great job.

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Hi Glimmer Twin Fan! Sorry you were bitten. We've don't have a tick problem this year, but last year was horrible! Stay safe & tick-free! --Jill

      • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

        Claudia Mitchell 

        6 years ago

        Ticks are nasty, especially this year. I got bitten by one for the first time earlier this year. I freaked out. Interesting hub and it's no wonder I didn't know it was there since it injected me with a nerve toxin. Ugh.

      • Radcliff profile image

        Liz Davis 

        6 years ago from Hudson, FL

        Hahah! We must be kindred spirits. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do with all those seeds. And yes, we do have some awesome adventures :)

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Hey Radcliff! I really would have loved that. How do you know me so well?! I've been collecting more and more seed. Now one entire counter is covered--and the dining table is going to be next. Glad you stopped by to comment. Sounds like you & the little one have lots of sweet adventures together. Take care, Jill

      • Radcliff profile image

        Liz Davis 

        6 years ago from Hudson, FL

        Now I'm itchy. *shudder*

        The little one and I found thousands of sprouting seeds washed up on shore at the beach today, probably from the tropical storm. I immediately thought, "Oooh, The Dirt Farmer would like this!" LOL Anyway, I looked them up and they're black mangrove seeds. Nice plants, but unfortunately not something I can put into a pot.

      • The Dirt Farmer profile imageAUTHOR

        Jill Spencer 

        6 years ago from United States

        Don't the pictures just gross you out? They are so nasty.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 

        6 years ago from Hawaii

        Ticks probably upset and disgust me more than anything else in the world. I just can't stand them!

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