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Tick ID Lab - Tick Biology

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Did you know that ticks are not insects? Adult ticks have eight legs compared to the six that insects have. Ticks are actually small arachnids in the order Ixodida. Along with mites, they constitute the subclass Acarina. Ticks wait for hosts on the tips of grasses and shrubs.  When brushed by a moving animal or person, they quickly let go of the vegetation and climb onto the host. Thus, ticks are sometimes found indoors after hitching a ride on you or a family pet. Since ticks are efficient feeders and tenacious once attached, there is potential for transmitting disease. With the increasing incidence of Lyme disease, Mainers should be in the habit of doing tick checks after frequenting tick territory.

Photo of an engorged Deer tick (left) and an engorged Dog tick (right), side-by-side

LEFT: Engorged Deer Tick; RIGHT: Engorged Dog Tick (both females) (Click on the image to view an enlargement.)

As ticks go through their life stages (larva, nymph, and adult), they usually change hosts. The seed or larval ticks will attach to small animals and be dispersed by them. Nymphs will climb up higher plants to latch onto larger hosts. Adult ticks can perch on plants for months waiting for a host to come by. Ticks may also seek out prey by detecting heat and carbon dioxide emanating from a potential host. Adult female ticks can feed for several days up to a month. On humans, ticks migrate to the hairline, the area behind the ears, or in the armpits. Although they can attach anywhere on dogs, commonly, they attach to the ear, shoulder, and upper leg areas. The female needs a bloodmeal in order to lay eggs. Ticks can feed on a variety of animals including birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Encounters with ticks have been increasing due to more people getting out and enjoying nature, more landscaping favorable to tick habitat being incorporated into public areas, and the influx and spread of the deer tick.


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