Ticks really suck this time of year

Published on Saturday, 5 April 2014 23:45 - Written by Chad Gulley Extension Agent

Ticks are biting pests that can affect pets, livestock and humans. Lone star ticks live in wooded areas with underbrush, along creeks and rivers near animal resting places. The brown dog tick is the most common tick in urban areas.

Ticks belong to one of two family groups: “Hard ticks” (Ixodidae) and “soft ticks” (Argasidae). Ticks develop through four stages: Egg; six-legged larva or “seed ticks;” an eight-legged nymph; and adult.

Adult ticks have eight legs and the body is fused into a single region. Lone star tick adults are brown to tan, 1/3 inch long before feeding and up to 1/2-inch long engorged. Females have a single silvery-white spot on its back while males have scattered spots or streaks around the margins of the body. Females occur in late spring and early summer.

After feeding, the female ticks drop from the host and lay clusters of thousands of eggs in ground litter. Peak adult tick and nymphal activity occurs from March through May and again from July through August. Larvae occur in mid-June or July. It often takes up to three years for a tick such as the Lone star tick to complete its life cycle.

Mouthparts are for piercing and sucking. Ticks feed by making a small incision in the skin with their barbed, piercing mouthparts. After inserting their mouthparts they set the barbed teeth on the anchoring device and secrete a fluid that cements their mouthparts into the skin.

Tick “bites” can be painful and cause localized inflammation, swelling, loss of blood (anemia), open hosts to secondary infections and possibly transmit disease agents such as those causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and tularemia. The bite of a tick is not initially felt.

Ticks find their victims by sitting on the edges of grass and shrubbery climbing onto their host as they pass by. Ticks do not drop out of trees. Brushy areas, tall grassy areas near forests and even in forest areas are places where ticks are most often found. Ticks may crawl around on a host for hours before actually biting.

Protect yourself from ticks while in areas ticks may be present. Avoid sitting on logs or on the ground in brushy, tick infested areas. Keep tall grass and weeds short. When outdoors in these areas, wear long pants and shirts keeping shirttails tucked in. When using insecticides, follow all label directions carefully.

If a tick is found on you or your pet, remove the tick. It is recommended to remove the tick as close to the head as possible with tweezers. Remove it with a firm, slow pull without twisting. Apply an antiseptic to the skin. If you experience an unusual rash or illness after a tick bite, see a doctor for treatment.

Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information or veteran status.