Ticks (Families Argasidae and Ixodidae)

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What do ticks look like?  Ticks are usually round or tear-shaped.  Some ticks are so small that they are hard to see.  Others, when filled with a blood meal, are as big as a pencil eraser.  They can be gray, brown, black, or even reddish.  Ticks have eight legs, which makes them a type of arachnid, but they are not actually spiders. 

What do ticks eat?  Males and female ticks suck blood from mammals (including people), as well as from birds, reptiles, and amphibians.  Like redbugs, they wait on small bushes, moss, and sticks for an animal to walk by.  They jump onto you and crawl around until they find a spot where they feel safe enough to bite you.  (This will often be on the scalp (head), back of the neck, waist, or ankles.)  Ticks have sharp mouthparts which they bury in your skin.  Their mouthparts hang on really tight and make it difficult to remove ticks from your skin.  While attached, they drink blood to use as food.  After they are full, they drop off into the plants on the ground.  Female ticks lay eggs in the moss and shrubs.

How do you avoid getting bitten by ticks?  Stay away from piles of sticks and moss where baby ticks might be hatching.  Instead, walk on grass or paths.  Wear light-colored pants and a long-sleeved shirt.  Tuck your pants into your socks.  Use a tick repellent (like sulfur powder), and check yourself for ticks every 3 - 4 hours.  (Be sure to check in your hair and anyplace that bends or has tight elastic.)

How do you get a tick off once it has bitten in?  Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible, but don’t squash him.  Do not twist or jerk the tweezers.  Instead, pull the tweezers up with even pressure.  To kill the tick, drop it in alcohol.  Afterwards, be sure to clean the tick bite very well.  If the mouthparts stayed in your skin, it may make a sore.  Try not to scratch it. 

What is Lyme Disease?  Some ticks carry a sickness called Lyme disease.  Not all ticks carry the disease.  So if you get bitten, don’t worry! Just watch the tick bite.  If the bite looks red right after you remove the tick, that just means your skin didn’t like the tick’s saliva (spit!)  Some people are allergic to tick spit.  If you get a rash in the shape of a circle around the bite, that could be Lyme disease.  The rash usually shows up one to two weeks after you are bitten.   Lyme disease can be cured if a doctor treats you with antibiotics right away. Some other signs of Lyme disease are tiredness, fever, headache, and upset stomach.

To learn more about tick safety, click here.

Milne, Lorus and Margery. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. New York: Chanticleer Press, Inc., 1995.
Ticks. A pamphlet by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.
Ticks and Chiggers. A pamphlet by the Florida Department of Natural Resources.
Tick Talk. A pamphlet by the US Army Medical Department, 1989.

Provided by the Pelotes Island Nature Preserve

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