What Are Ticks?
Ticks are related to spiders, mites and scorpions. There are many different species of tick living in Britain, each preferring to feed on the blood of different animal hosts. The one most likely to bite humans in Britain is the Sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus. Despite its name, the sheep tick will feed from a wide variety of mammals and birds. Bites from other ticks are possible, including from the Hedgehog tick, Ixodes hexagonus, and the Fox or Badger tick, Ixodes canisuga.
There are different ticks in other parts of the world and they carry different diseases. If you take your dog abroad, be aware of this and take suitable precautions. The Brown Dog Tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus has been brought into the UK from Europe on dogs and can survive and reproduce inside a home, unlike the native UK ticks. In the USA the highest risk comes from the Deer tick, Ixodes scapularis.
There are four stages to a tick’s life-cycle: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Larvae, nymphs and adults spend most of the time on the ground protected by leaf litter, leaving this protection to find a meal. They feed only once in each stage, staying attached for a few days, then dropping to the ground to moult into the next stage or overwinter. The whole life cycle from egg to adult lasts around 2 years.
Where are they Found?
Ticks can be found in any place with moist air where they are protected from drying out – The sheep tick is sensitive to climatic conditions, requiring a relative humidity of at least 80% to survive during its off-host periods, and is therefore restricted to areas of moderate to high rainfall with vegetation that retains a high humidity (i.e. litter layer and soil remain humid during the day). Typical habitats vary across Europe, but typically include deciduous and coniferous woodland, heathland, moorland, rough pasture, forests and urban parks.
How do they Feed & Pass on Disease
Ticks feed on the blood of other animals. If a larval tick picks up an infection from a small animal such as a mice, when it next feeds as a nymph it can pass the infection to the next animal or human it bites.
They cannot jump or fly, but when ready for a meal will climb a nearby piece of vegetation and wait for a passing animal or human to catch their hooked front legs. This behaviour is known as questing. The tick will not necessarily bite immediately, but will often spend some time finding a suitable site on the skin, so it is important to brush off pets and clothing before going inside.
Once a tick has started to feed, its body will become filled with blood. Adult females can swell to many times their original size. As their blood sacs fill they generally become lighter in colour and can reach the size of a small pea, generally grey in colour. Larvae, nymphs and adult males do not swell as much as they feed, so the size of the tick is not a reliable guide to the risk of infection. If undisturbed, a tick will feed for around 5 to 7 days before letting go and dropping off.
The bite is usually painless and most people will only know they have been bitten if they happen to see a feeding tick attached to them.
The risk of infection increases the longer the tick is attached, but can happen at any time during feeding. As tick bites are often unnoticed, it may be difficult to determine how long it has been attached. Any tick bite should be considered as posing a risk of infection.
Typical UK Diseases
- Lyme borreliosis [bore-EL-ee-OH-sis] or Lyme disease, is by far the most common in the UK
- Babesiosis [bab-EE-see-OH-sis]
- Anaplasmosis [a-na-plas-MO-sis]
- Rickettsiosis [ri-KET-see-OH-sis]
This useful information has been provided by:
Prevention is better than cure!
- Use a chemical repellent with DEET, permethrin or picaridin.
- Wear light-colored protective clothing.
- Tuck pant legs into socks.
- Avoid tick-infested areas.
- Check yourself, your children, and your pets daily for ticks and carefully remove any ticks.
For Animals choose our tick repellent dry shampoo providing 8 hours protection.