What makes a tick... tick?

posted: by: Christina Bowles, DVM Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

Why should you care about ticks?  Besides being kind of yucky, creepy-crawly critters, they are a very important vector for both zoonotic and animal diseases.  In plain English, they can and will pass disease to us and to our pets.  Diseases like Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Borreliosis, Colorado tick fever, Ehrlichiosis, Heartland virus, Lyme disease, Powassan disease, Rickettsiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI), Tickborne Relapsing Fever, and Tularemia.  Feel free to look some of these diseases up if you want to scare yourself.  So yes, ticks are important.  Besides, they’re just kind of yucky, creepy-crawly critters.  Not something I want to find in my bed at 2 o’clock in the morning…

For years, we have believed that the spring, summer and fall are the most important times to focus on good tick control.  This is because of the tick life cycle.  Baby ticks, called larvae, hatch out of their eggs in the spring - just like those cute baby birds.  Except baby ticks aren’t cute and they want to suck your blood.  Insert Dracula cackle here.  In order to advance from a larva to a nymph, the tick needs a blood meal.  So these tiny little larvae - about the size of the period at the end of this sentence - usually find a rodent or bird for a little snack.  But if you or I happen to be nearby, they will happily sip from us instead. So, spring is an important time for tick control.

As soon as they feed, the larvae can become nymph.  Nymph are most common in August and they like to feed from larger mammals - people, pets, and deer to name a few.  That’s why summer is important for tick control - we, along with the pets that we love, become a potential food source.  And when a tick feeds, it can also pass on any disease it is carrying.  See above to revisit the scary diseases.

Once a nymph feeds, it can then molt into an adult.  This uses up all of the tick’s energy - which means the adult now needs a snack. This story kind of reminds me of the Hungry Little Caterpillar!  At this point you and I are out enjoying the gorgeous leaves, unknowingly serving as a buffet for little tick vampires.  After the third meal of its life, the tick is ready to mate.  Bada bing, Bada boom, the males die and the females live on til the spring to lay more eggs.  

This is the simple version of the lifecycle.  There is lots of variation - which actually means that tick control is more important than we thought in the winter - but let’s “keep it simple stupid” and sum up for now.

Fun fact:  One female tick will lay several thousand eggs.  Let’s say that again: SEVERAL THOUSAND EGGS.  Follow up question: If a female tick comes into the house on your pet, where do you think she lays her eggs?  Several thousand eggs…

In summary, ticks are creepy vampires that pass disease to us and our pets.  Those diseases cause lots of horrible illness and sometimes death, and we have many good products that can keep all of this from happening to your or your pets.  Call us to start tick prevention today.  Seriously, call us!  Because ticks are creepy.