Deer Tick, a Questing Bloodsucker

Even if bloodsucking arachnids make you scratch, it’s worth spending a few minutes learning about the behaviors of this tiny creature who survives by hitching rides and drinking blood. While ticks have the potential to spread serious disease, if you know where they hang-out, how do inspections, and how to properly remove them, you can minimize the danger to yourself, your family, and your pets.

Where Ticks Hang-out

Deer ticks are found in places near potential hosts. In Nevada County, those include; deer, squirrel, mice, rabbits, birds, lizards, woodrats, bobcats, skunks, gophers, dogs, cats, humans and other animals with blood.

Blood meals are required for growth. Black-legged ticks (aka Deer Ticks) are hard-bodied and require a host to progress through each life stage. Between meals, they wait, often going into diapause, a state of suspended development.

When not connected to a host, ticks require cool moist places like;

  • leaf litter
  • overgrown shrubs
  • high grass
  • wooded areas
  • woodpiles
  • low branches
  • logs
  • bird feeders
  • moisture-retaining garden features such as mulch or stone walls

Myths

Ticks  do not;

  •  jump
  • drop from trees
  • fly 

They only crawl and climb. To move long distances, ticks must do so while attached to a host.

 

How Ticks Sense Hosts and Know When to Ready Their Grappling Hooks

  • body odor
  • vibration
  • heat
  • breath
  • moisture

questing tick larvae

Questing Behavior

Questing is when a tick prepares to latch onto a host. Like a pirate with a grappling hook, a tick perches at the end of grass blades or branches, waiting with outstretched front legs.  After hooking onto hair or clothing, the tick begins to ascend. They travel up, looking for locations with thinner skin and for places where hosts cannot reach.

Questing Black-legged (Deer) tick. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Newtown Rd. bobcat with an engorged tick. Photo Credit: Terry & Anita Hansen

 Life Span

In warm climates, a tick’s life span may only last a year. In Nevada County, where it’s cold, a tick has a three-year life span. 

Fall through Winter

Tick life starts out as an egg.

Larvae hatch with six legs. *They go into diapause, suspended development, whenever weather conditions are not ideal.

Spring

 The larva attaches to a host – usually a small animal –  for its first blood meal – which can last from days to weeks – then drops off.

Summer through Winter

After molting, a larva becomes a nymph, gains two additional legs, and overwinters in this stage.

2nd Spring

Nymphs seek out a host for a second blood meal – which can last from days to weeks – then drops off.

2nd Summer through Winter

Nymphs molt into adults and overwinter in this stage.

3rd Spring

Adults seek out a third blood meal – usually on a large animal – where they feed and mate through the summer.  Males die after mating.

3rd Fall

Females drop off the host to lay eggs on the ground. She’ll lay about twenty eggs a day and can lay over a thousand in a month-and-a-half. At this life stage, most of her body weight is comprised of the eggs. When she’s finished laying, her body collapses.

*Engorged females, ready to lay eggs will look for soil as a first choice, but if she drops off inside a house, she will seek places like hampers, bathroom rugs, or a pile of damp laundry.

 

Life stages: larvae, nymph, adult male and female.

Hardiness

Using diapause, ticks can survive long periods of drought. They can also survive underwater for two to three days and can last for two years without a blood meal.

Most Active

Adult black-legged ticks (aka Deer Ticks) are most active after the first frost in fall and again in spring.

Squirrels Carry Bacteria

In California, the Western gray squirrel is known to harbor the bacterium –Borrelia burgdorferi– that causes Lyme Disease. Ticks pick this up during their first or second blood meal.

Lizards – Western Lyme Heros

 

Western Fence Lizard with tick Photo Credit Jerry Kirkhart

While in the larva or nymph stage, ticks frequently find lizard hosts. 

Alligator lizard with ticks. Photo Credit Steve Jervetson

A protein in lizard blood kills the Lyme disease causing bacteria.

 

Lizards may be the reason Lyme Disease is not as prevalent in the western states as it is in the east.

Once a tick is finished with its lizard liquid, the bacteria won’t be transmitted to the next host.

 Predators

Ants, frogs, lizards, poultry, and opossums.

Tick Inspection & Bite Prevention

  • Wear light-colored clothes – long pants + long-sleeved shirts.
  • Apply bug spray with at least 20% Deet. (Permethrin on clothes only.)
  • Keep to the middle of the trail and try not to brush against branches or grass.
  • Frequently stop to check pant legs for ticks.
  • Check companions for ticks in places they can’t see. 
  • Also do periodic checks on animals, focusing on head, ears, and neck.
  • If possible, shower within two hours of spending time in a tick zones.

Tick Removal 

Because ticks have numbing agents in their saliva, you won’t feel it when mouthparts penetrate.

With tweezers, grab the tick close to the skin and pull straight out.

Ticks & Disease

“Ticks transmit the widest variety of pathogens of any blood-sucking arthropod, including bacteria, rickettsiae, protozoa, and viruses,” comments Larisa Vredevoe, Ph.D, Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis

**It’s important to remove ticks as soon as possible. It takes between 36 to 48 hours for a Borrelia burgdorferi carrier tick to transmit the bacteria from the gut to the salivary glands.

Interactive Lyme Disease and Tick Survey

From the data on the Interactive Lyme Disease and Tick Survey,

the majority of Lyme disease causing ticks in Nevada County come from the South Yuba River watershed.

Nevada County Cases of Lyme Disease

Between 2000 and 2016, Nevada County reported 48 cases of Lyme Disease

Nevada County, incidence per 100,000 person-years = 2.73

The highest risk counties in California are; Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino.

Seek Medical Attention

If a rash or skin irritation occurs after a tick bite, promptly seek medical attention.

Lyme Rash

click image to purchase or view entire Life on the Creek design collection

If you’re not too ‘bugged’ by this post, you might also like Fleas and Disease in the California Gold Rush 

Resources:

Bay Area Lyme Foundation – Are Deer to Blame?

California Department of Public Health – Lyme Disease

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Tick prevention, removal, symptoms, and data

Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology – Blocking pathogen transmission at the source: reservoir targeted OspA-based vaccines against Borrelia burgdorferi

John Hopkins Lyme Disease  Research Center – Preventing Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease Association – Tick Removal

Nevada County Tick ID & Testing & Q and A PDF’s

Nevada County Reports of Lyme disease by the year

New York Times – Lyme Diseases’s Worst Enemy? It Might be Foxes

SF Gate – Lizards Slow Lyme Disease in West / Ticks bite them – and leave with purified blood

San Mateo County Mosquito & Vector Control District – Lizards, Ticks and Lyme Disease

Smithsonian Magazine (VIDEO)Mother tick laying eggs

The Union (2008) Ticks that cause Lyme disease are prevalent in county

UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology – California Ticks  &  Tick Biology

University of California, Berkeley – Feeding on lizard blood strips ticks of dangerous Lyme disease bacterium

University of California San Francisco (2018) Lyme Disease is on the Rise – An Expert Explains Why

University of California San Francisco – Gene Signature Could Lead to a New Way of Diagnosing Lyme

WebMD – All about Ticks FAQ 2019

 

Saliva Studies

 
Mating & Egg Laying

University of California TV – Lyme Disease – History and Current Controversies (2013)

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply