Ticks are small members of the Arachnid family, ranging in size from the size of a pinhead to a pencil eraser, ranging in color from brown to reddish-brown and black. Relatives to spiders, scorpions and mites, ticks sport eight legs, and according to fossil records, originated some 90 million years ago. Even though over 800 tick species exist around the world, only two tick family classifications are known to be vectors of human illness and disease:
- Ixodidae: Hard-bodied – have a hard plate or scutum on backs; American dog tick, wood tick, lone star tick, deer tick
- Argasidae: Soft-bodied – shaped like a raisin, do not live on hosts but are generally found in nests and animal burrows.
Ticks require blood meals for three of their four life cycles – larvae, nymph, and adult. Larvae, also known as seed ticks, feed on a host and molt into the nymph stage. Nymphs molt again into larger adults. Female ticks are more likely to bite animals and humans, as males generally die after mating. Ticks do not jump, fly or drop out of trees but reach out from grass blades and shrubs to grab or crawl onto hosts.
While most ticks are harmless, some pose serious threats to humans and animals. Common diseases carried by hard ticks include:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Colorado tick fever
- Human tick-borne ehrlichiosis
- American babesiosis
- Tick paralysis
- Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)
Soft ticks can transmit relapsing fever in humans and animals. Tick bites that cause rashes and flu-like symptoms should be treated by healthcare professionals immediately. To avoid ticks, wear appropriate clothing and insect repellent with Deet when going into wooded areas or walking in tall grass. Be sure to check yourself, your kids, and your pets after frequenting tick prone areas.
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