I have always prescribed to the notion that the world’s varieties of creatures are woven into webs of balance, necessity and purpose. Even the ones that make you go yuuuuck. It just seems however, that try as I might, a few of these I just can’t figure out their place in the scheme of things. Such is the case with that slower than a sloth, creepy, crawly, disease-carrying arachnid we call a tick. The absolute only positive relationship I have ever heard is with Diceros bicornis (black rhino) and his friends of Africa and the nitpicking tickbird that rides his back. This wonderful symbiotic relationship allows the parasite eating tickbird a ride with a free meal and the rhino, Lubriderm-like skin.
Seriously, is that it?
Related to spiders and mites, ticks also have eight very tiny legs. They are blood-feeding and attach to their host with cutting mouth parts that have barb-like teeth to hang on. It is during this attached feeding phase, which usually lasts days, that a tick may transmit numerous diseases from its saliva, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, anaplasmosis, encephalitis and, of course, the dreaded Lyme disease. Ticks require these blood meals to molt and mature through various life stages and to lay eggs.
Ticks can take up to three years to complete their life cycle. They start as eggs laid in the fall that hatch into six-legged larvae. These larvae overwinter, find a host (usually a rodent) in the spring and molt into eight-legged nymphs their first year. First-year nymphs overwinter, feed on a host in their second year (rodent, dog, people) and molt into adults. The adults overwinter, find another host in the spring (white-tailed deer) where they attach, mate and lay eggs for that fall’s batch of eggs.
It is especially that “second year nymph” in the spring that causes all the ruckus about Lyme disease.
Ticks are ravenous right now. As soon as warm weather hits, they become more active, hanging out on leaves, grasses and bushes. They cannot jump or fly. When some critter walks by, they fall onto them, crawling ever so slowly until they find a nice juicy spot to latch on with their mouth parts and straw-like blood sucking tube. Over a period of more than 24 hours they engorge with blood to many times their normal size. They then will fall off to either molt or lay eggs. It is amazing how ticks can attach without you feeling their bite. When we were camping in Wildcat Hollow in Missouri in the spring, we would regularly pick off a dozen of these nasty freeloaders every few hours.
If you find a tick on your dog, cat or yourself I suggest simply pulling it off. Take a pair of tweezers, grab it where it is attached to the skin and pluck the varmint off. Don’t spin the tweezers, don’t mash up the body. Just pluck ‘em and clean the area with some antiseptic. A scab will probably develop there in a few days, but no worries.
I also suggest NOT trying your great uncle’s suggestion of touching a blown out match to a tick to make it back out. It doesn’t work and you will miss the tick (personal note). The Vaseline and nail polish tricks are bogus too. Several hours later the tick will still be happily chowing (personal note).
What? No comments on Lyme disease? That’s for next week. This I will tease you with though. What ticks are in Indiana? Is the tick that carries Lyme disease found here? What species of ticks will I certainly pull off dogs this week at the office? How many cases of Lyme disease are found in our county? Our state? Should I vaccinate my dog for Lyme disease?
By the way, for all pet owners and this is important: remember the part I mentioned earlier about the tiny legs on ticks. Before you pull that tick off your dog, make sure there are legs on it, warts hurt and bleed forever when you pluck them!