Image Credit – Wikimedia
Summertime is carnival time for blood sucking ticks, and your canine companion is a walking, barking target for these pesky little arachnids. In order to prevent a tick infestation and avoid the diseases they carry, it helps to understand their life cycle.
Ticks are usually classified by their body structure – hard ticks and soft ticks. Ticks that belong to the Ixodidae family tend to have a hard outer shell, which is referred to as scutum. Soft ticks, which belong to the Argasidae family, do not have a scutum. Hard bodied ticks are the ones that usually tend to prey on household pets. Soft ticks are really common in the Southwest and found in the ears of pets, where the skin is much thinner.
Most of the hard ticks need three separate hosts to complete their development. When they are developing, they go through four main stages. These are the egg stage, the larval stage, the nymphal stage and the adult stage.
Adult female ticks tend to breed when they are on the host animal and then drop down to the ground to lay their eggs. They lay at least a thousand eggs at a time, which hatch to the larval stage. These are referred to as seed ticks. During this stage, the small ticks tend to have six legs.
Ticks cannot jump. So they find a way to attach themselves to the host. They use grass and other vegetation to raise themselves to a height from which they can easily hop on to any passing animal, like birds or small rodents. The biochemical signals, like rising CO2 levels, emitted by warm blooded mammals alert the ticks to hosts nearby.
This phenomenon is referred to as “questing” and ticks tend to use these behaviors to find the first host for a blood meal. After they gorge themselves on the blood of the mammal, the seed ticks fall down to the ground, where they shed away their outer skins and become nymphs with eight legs.
The nymph lies in wait for a second host to attach to. Once they find the second host, they engorge on their blood. Nymphs tend to prefer larger animals like possums and raccoons as hosts. Once they are fully engorged, the nymphs drop down to the ground yet again, molt and become adult ticks. The latter then go to hunt for a larger host, like a dog or deer. Once they latch on to their third and final host, they feed on their blood till they are ready to lay eggs.
Depending on the tick species, the life cycle can take anywhere between two months and two years. There are several tick species that need only one host to complete their life cycle. Hard ticks lay eggs in the ground in protected areas during springtime. The brown tick is the only exception as it can lay its eggs indoors. As the moisture levels and the ambient temperature rises, the eggs hatch into larvae. The larvae tend to feed and molt into nymphs during the summer. These nymphs are inactive throughout the winter and start feeding again during the spring. Once they feed and molt into adults during the summer months, they spend the fall season feeding and breeding. The males die off and the females survive through the winter months only to lay their eggs next spring.