Ticks. Everyone who has ever lived in a temperate climate zone where tall grass and trees grow has dealt with ticks. These little pests are experts at sneaking on to your body and finding a free meal. They can be hard to detect and tend to leave an itchy bump where they attached. Besides being annoying, ticks can also pose a health threat and should be avoided when possible.
People normally consider ticks to be insects, but they are actually in the same family as spiders and scorpions. The adult tick has eight legs and no antenna proving their placement in the arachnid family. They do not have wings and can therefore not fly. They are also unable to jump, limiting their movement to crawling. They hatch out of eggs and go through two other stages before becoming full adults. During the first of these two stages the tick is a larva with only six legs. They are very tiny at this point and are commonly called seed ticks, indicating their size. The larva soon morphs into the nymph stage and then on to full adulthood.
Ticks are parasites that feed on the outside of the host's body. They usually choose mammals, birds and humans as hosts, although they can occasionally be found on reptiles and amphibians. Ticks locate a prospective host by sensing their body heat or carbon dioxide emissions. Some species of ticks will crawl several feet to reach a host animal or person. Most just sit on the ends of grass blades or shrubs and wait for an unsuspecting host to pass by.
Once they have successfully crawled onto a person or animal, a tick will look for a good spot to feed. They are not very particular and can be found on all parts of the body. Once they have selected a location they use their sharp cutting mandibles to make a small hole in the skin and insert their feeding tube. These feedings can last a few minutes or several days, depending on the type of tick and host. Most ticks drop off after a feeding and will later seek another host.
Some types of ticks can transmit dangerous diseases such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Fever. It is important to repel or eliminate ticks to protect against illness. Animals as well as people should be checked for ticks frequently even if preventative measures have been taken.
Nature has provided two animals which eat ticks and keep the ticks population under control. The Ichneumon wasp lays its eggs on a tick and the hatching wasps consume their host. It is a fitting end for a parasitic creature. Another all-natural tick eater is the guinea fowl. These hungry birds love to snack on ticks and can clean up a large tick infested area in a very short time.
Ticks are annoying creatures that can cause great damage if left alone. Every step should be taken to protect humans and animals from their ever hungry bellies.