What Is A Tick?

We’ve all seen them, those disgusting little bugs that often resemble a small rotten white grape, stuck to our pet’s neck or on our legs after a weekend hiking.

Ticks. Hideous and revolting as they are, if you’re dealing with one you’ll definitely need a solid  understanding of what they actually are. 

That way, you can deal with them properly. Among the most important things to consider about ticks (aside from how unpleasant they are too look at) are their life cycles, feeding habits, bite symptoms and more.

Tick Biology

Technically speaking, ticks are small arachnids that require the ingestion of blood to complete their growth cycles and fully mature. The reason ticks are classified scientifically as “Arachnida” is due to their small eight-legged bodies.

More than 800 varieties of tick species are known to exist around the world. That said, out of all of the various types of ticks, just two distinct tick-families are recorded as transmitting illnesses and diseases to people; hard ticks (ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae).

The main difference between hard and soft ticks is that hard ticks have a hard plate called a scutum on their backs and soft ticks lack a scutum.

Life Cycle

The full life cycle of ticks is a complex one including transforming from eggs to larva to seed ticks (or nymphs) to adult. All stages of a tick’s life require blood meals (except for eggs).

Larval ticks, which include larvae as well as nymphs, aren’t as specific about where their blood meals come from. Ticks in these stages are known to feed on practically anything with blood including birds, mammals, amphibians, and even snakes. 

Adult ticks, which are mostly females (as males mainly die upon mating), are known for feeding strictly on humans and larger animals (from deer to dogs and everything in between). If ticks don’t ingest enough blood, their death is inevitable. That said, many tick species are capable of surviving for longer than a year with sufficient blood.

Diet & Feeding

Ticks aren’t able to fly or jump onto hosts to feed, they just crawl onto their victims and then latch on. Depending on the species of tick, the host may or may not even feel the bite when the tick latches on with its mouth. However, a small handful of soft ticks are known for their strong and painful bites.

In terms of ingesting blood, hard ticks tend to feed on their hosts for hours on end. Sometimes hard ticks will even suck blood for days at a time. Soft ticks on the other hand typically don’t feed for more than a single hour once latched to their hosts. 

The importance of this particular bit of info is that diseases and illnesses tend to be transferred from tick to human towards the end of feeding (when the tick is swollen full of its host’s blood).Meaning, soft ticks can transmit diseases or illness under 60 seconds, whereas with a hard tick it could take as much as several hours to transmit disease or illness.

Tick Eggs

Ticks, like many pests, do lay eggs. Adult female ticks normally lay eggs on the ground, dropping off of their hosts log enough to do so. In appearance, these eggs range from clear to brown and red. Size wise, typical tick eggs are are 3mm. The scary part is the amount of eggs that licks are capable of laying at once; thousands of eggs.

At any rate, the chances of running into a tick nest, or ever spotting a single tick egg, are slim to none according to most professionals. Most eggs that you will come in contact with, and believe to be tick eggs, are likely to be spiders, slugs, or some other species of insects in actuality.

Tick Bite Symptoms

When you’re bitten by a tick, chances are you will notice it. That said, in some cases, hours, even days, may go by before you (or someone around you) notices the tick attached to your skin. However, if you don’t happen to see the tick, but suspect that a tick has indeed bitten you, there are several symptoms indicative to a tick bite.

Most times, the tick will still be attached to the skin, so there is no mystery to solving the case of what bit you. If the tick is not visible, check for the following signs:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Blood
  • Blisters

If you have been bitten by a tick, there is a slim chance that you could be transmitted a blood-borne disease or illness. Signs of these illnesses may take days to weeks to show up after a tick bite. 

Indicators you may need to seek medical attention after a tick bite:

  • Red puffy spot near the bite site
  • Rash that covers more than the bite site
  • Stiff neck and sore muscles
  • Headache and nausea
  • Weakness and faint spells
  • Chills and/or high fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Change in breathing

If you do seek medical attention for a tick bite, make sure to take the actual tick that bit you to the hospital if possible. That way, the lab can test it for disease and make the process easier.

How Dangerous Are Ticks?

When you get right down to it, ticks can be pretty dangerous to humans. They can and do transmit diseases to humans, and the diseases can be pretty severe. Pretty scary right? 

The good thing is that only a very small population of ticks even carry diseases and illnesses that are harmful to humans. So, the chances of getting bitten by one of the ticks carrying a disease, such as Lyme disease, or Rocky Mountain Fever, is literally one in millions.

Here are a few of the most significant diseases that ticks are capable of transmitting to humans:

  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain Fever
  • Tularemia
  • Colorado Tick Fever
  • Ehrlichiosis

If you have been bitten by a tick, and you have startling or ongoing symptoms, consult a medical professional right away. Most diseases spread by ticks are easily remedied by early treatment. That said, life threatening circumstances may be the result of an infectious tick bite gone untreated.

Final Thoughts On Ticks

Knowing what ticks are, and how to properly identify their bites, as well as the symptoms of the diseases they may be carrying, and kill ticks is crucial. Unfortunately, ticks are probably one of the pests that practically everyone will experience once or twice during their lifetime. Especially pet owners and lovers of the great outdoors. 

Being bitten by a tick is not the end of the world, it isn’t even really all that dangerous. However, in the case you are that one in millions, a tick bite could result in lifelong health complications.