- Protect yourself and your pets from ticks -

Summary: Ticks are blood-feeding ectoparasites of mammals, birds and reptiles. Because of their potential to spread disease ticks should be avoided whenever possible and quickly removed whenever found on you or your pets.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)
my resume

Ticks are a type of mite

Ticks are ectoparasites of animals like mammals, birds and reptiles. Ticks are a type of mite (eight legs, reduced body segmentation) and all active stages of ticks feed on the blood of their host animals. Other familiar, blood-feeding ectoparasites are female mosquitoes, black flies, bed bugs, fleas, lice and a number of other mites.

Ticks can be large when compared with other mites. They range in size from tiny, newly hatched, larval "seed" ticks about the size of a period on a printed page, to relatively large (1/4"+) adults. Ticks expand (engorge) during feeding (see photo right). Compare the pictures of the engorged dog tick (right) and the unfed tick (near bottom of page and here) to get idea how much they expand during feeding.

dog tick (engorged)

Engorged (fed) hard tick, probably the American dog tick (about 1/4” long). This tick had completed feeding and was in the processes of detaching from our dog when it was found. Photo by J. D. DeAngelis.

There are two families of ticks -- the hard ticks (Ixodidae) and the soft ticks (Argasidae). The easiest way to tell hard ticks from soft ticks is that when viewed from above the mouthparts are visible in hard ticks (see photo above) but not visible in soft ticks (see photo right).

Ticks frequently have more than one host on which they feed. Ticks acquire their first host shortly after hatching by climbing onto vegetation and waiting for an animal to brush by. They may feed on this host for 1 to several days then drop off, digest the meal then climb back up the vegetation and wait for another host. This is why ticks tend to occur in areas of brushy vegetation and why diseases can be passed from one animal to another, or even to people.

spinose ear tick

soft tick - notice that the mouthparts ("head") are not visible from above

Ticks spread disease when they bite

The most important thing to know about ticks is that they can infect you or your pet with a variety of diseases when they bite. Also, the chances that a tick bite will result in disease is directly related to how long the tick has been attached and feeding. Therefore it is extremely important that any ticks be removed as soon as they are found (see How to Safely Remove Ticks).

Certain ticks in the US carry the spirochete bacterium that causes Lyme Disease. Since Lyme Disease is highly treatable if detected early, you should see a physician immediately if any redness occurs around site of a recent tick bite.

Preventing tick bites

On people: The easiest way to avoid tick bites is to use an insect repellent that contains DEET or picaridin if your outdoor activity takes you into areas of brushy vegetation. These repellents will also protect against mosquitoes and other biting flies. For maximum protection use a combination of insect repellent and treat outer clothing with permethrin (see Using Insect Repellents).

On pets: If you treat pets with certain flea & tick medication like Frontline or K9 Advantix they are also protected against ticks. Our dog is regularly treated with Frontline because without it she brings ticks home from her daily walks. Flea and tick collars are another option and while these collars are not as effective against fleas they do work pretty well for ticks (see Related Articles below).

Removing ticks: Next to preventing tick bites prompt removal of ticks is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your pets. Never allow a tick to remain attached and feeding once you find it, you'd be surprised how often people do!

Related Articles

Flea and Tick Medications for Pets

Tick Collars

Unfed hard tick (Dermacentor) and wristwatch; photo by Bill Monroe

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