In the US there are several tick species. The most problematic species you might come in contact with are the brown dog tick, American dog tick, deer tick and the Lone Star tick. While each has different markings, they are also similar in a number of ways:
- All ticks have two body parts, a head/thorax and an abdomen.
- All ticks go through four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult.
- Tick larvae have three pairs of legs, while tick nymphs and adults have four pairs of legs.
- Ticks usually find a different blood host for each of the larvae, nymph and adult stages; making them potentially a three-host parasite.
- Ticks are a hardy parasite with a life cycle of over a year depending on environmental conditions.
The behavior of ticks is what makes their host-finding efforts efficient. Whether the host is a dog or a cat, this behavior is the same. Here is the tick’s host-finding strategy:
- When looking for a host, the tick will climb up on a strand of grass or a shrub, crawl to the end of the sprig or twig and wait with front legs reaching out.
- Tick legs are designed to grasp firmly onto fur or fabric, so all it takes is for a host to brush against the tick to give the parasitic hitchhiker a ride.
- The tick then attaches to the host’s skin with mouthparts that lock it into the skin.
- The tick’s saliva numbs the bite, making it difficult for the host to know it has been bitten.