Intro to ticks
Ticks are arthropods that are sometimes mistakenly called insects. Insects have three body regions, six legs, and typically possess wings. Ticks lack wings, have two body regions, and depending upon their developmental stage, may have either six (larva) or eight (adults and nymphs) legs. Ticks possess tremendous potential for transmitting organisms that may cause disease in humans and other animals. These disease-causing organisms include protozoa, viruses, and bacteria. Bites from certain ticks can cause a rare limp paralysis starting in the lower limbs and moving upwards with death resulting if the tick is not promptly removed. Additionally, tick bites can cause skin irritations or even allergic reactions in sensitive people who are repeatedly bitten.
Biology and behavior
Ticks undergo four developmental stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Nymphs and adults have four pairs of legs, while larvae have three pairs. All developmental stages of ticks are obligate blood feeders. They must obtain a blood meal to molt to the next life stage and for female ticks to develop eggs. Males remain on their host and mate with several females; they too will eventually drop from their host. Most hard ticks exhibit a three-host life cycle. This means the tick will feed on three separate hosts. Ticks typically feed only once during each developmental stage. Duration of time larvae, nymphs, and adults spend feeding varies among species and developmental stages but typically takes several days. After feeding, the larvae and nymphs drop from their host into the leaf litter to molt and then seek a new host. During favorable conditions the molting process can be completed in one to three weeks. Upon obtaining a blood meal adult females detach and drop into the leaf litter to lay a single batch of eggs. Adverse environmental conditions or a decline in day length may cause ticks to enter diapause (a state of dormancy) where they may delay host seeking, development, or laying eggs. Depending upon the species of tick, the number of eggs laid may range from a few hundred to several thousand. In most cases, the larger the volume of blood taken, the more eggs the female will be able to produce. The egg-laying process may take from several days to two or three weeks to complete. The female dies shortly after laying her eggs. The developmental period for each tick stage varies, and the entire life cycle may take up to two years or more to complete.
Prevention and treatment
Currently there are no protective vaccines for humans for the tick-borne diseases discussed above; consequently avoiding tick bites is the best disease-prevention strategy. You can take several to reduce your chances of being bitten by a tick. •Avoid known or suspected areas of tick infestation, especially during tick season.
•Walk on cleared trails and avoid brushing up against vegetation and tall grass.
•Avoid game trails.
•Wear proper clothing while in tick habitat. Clothing should be light in color to allow you to spot crawling ticks more easily. Wear closed-toed shoes, socks, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into the socks and the shirt into the pants in order to slow crawling ticks.
When using a pesticide treatment outdoors, special attention should be paid to lawns, shrubbery and crawl spaces under buildings of any size. Ticks like to stay in shady areas, out of direct sunlight. These areas should be thoroughly treated with a low toxicity residual insecticide to kill ticks and to prevent infestations of fleas, ticks, ants and other pests. Apply a low toxicity residual insecticide outdoors with a hose-end sprayer only — using a pump sprayer will not work! Treat all tick habitats, spraying shrubbery up to a height of 2 to 3 feet. If at all possible, mow grass and weeds on any vacant lot frequented by you, your pets and any other creature (rats, mice, raccoons, birds, reptiles) that can come into contact with your family. These areas should also be treated with a low toxicity residual insecticide. Because of a tick’s ability to detect and avoid pesticides, you must begin your pesticide application at the exterior of your home (or other structures), then work out and away from the house. This will help prevent “flushing” or “running” ticks up and into your home from outdoors. Keep pets and children off of any treated surfaces until dry.