Tick is the common name for the small arachnids in superfamily Ixodoidea that, along with other mites, constitute the Acarina. Ticks are ectoparasites (external parasites), living by hematophagy on the blood of mammals, birds, and occasionally reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are important vectors of a number of diseases, including Lyme disease and Tick-borne meningoencephalitis. According to Pliny the Elder, ticks are "the foulest and nastiest creatures that be.
Young ticks have six legs, and more mature ticks have 8 legs. They are about the size of a sesame seed, and males are black; females are brick-red abdomen with a black shield-like plate close to their head.
Changes in temperature and day length are some of the factors signaling a tick to seek a host. Ticks can detect heat emitted or carbon dioxide respired from a nearby host. They will generally drop off the animal when full, but this may take several days. In some cases, ticks will live for some time on the blood of an animal.
Ticks can be found in most wooded or forested areas throughout the world. They are especially common in areas where there are deer trails or horse paths.
Some of the more common diseases that can be contracted from a tick bite include (listed alphabetically): Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Southern tick-associated rash illness, Tick-borne relapsing fever, and Tularemia
The blacklegged or deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) is dependent on the white-tailed deer for successful reproduction. Larval and nymph stages (immature ticks that cannot reproduce) of the deer tick feed on birds and small mammals. The adult female tick needs a large 3 day blood meal from the deer before she can reproduce and lay her 2000 or more eggs. Deer are the primary host for the adult deer tick and are key to the reproductive success of the tick. See the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and Connecticut Department of Public Health joint publication "Tick Management Handbook" for more details of the tick's life cycle and dependence on deer.
Numerous studies have shown that abundance and distribution of deer ticks are correlated with deer densities.
For example, when the deer population was reduced by 74% at a study site in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the number of nymphal ticks collected at the site decreased by 92%. Furthermore, the relationship between deer abundance, tick abundance, and human cases of Lyme disease was well documented in the Mumford Cove Community in Groton, Connecticut, from 1996 to 2004. The deer population in Mumford Cove was reduced from about 77 deer per square mile to about 10 deer per square mile (4 deer per 30 square kilometers) after 2 years of controlled hunting. After the initial reduction, the deer population was maintained at low levels. Reducing deer densities to 10 deer per square mile (4 deer per square kilometer) was adequate to reduce by more than 90% the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease in Mumford Cove. Deer population management must serve as the main tool in any long-term strategy to reduce human incidences of Lyme disease.
Damminix is a method of reducing deer tick (Ixodes scapularis/dammini) populations. It consists of biodegradable cardboard tubes stuffed with permethrin-treated cotton and works in the following way: Mice collect the cotton for lining their nests. The pesticide on the cotton kills any immature ticks that are feeding on the mice. It is important to put the tubes where mice will find them, such as in dense, dark brush or at the base of a log; mice are unlikely to gather the cotton from an open lawn. Best results are obtained with regular applications early in the spring and again in late summer. The more neighbors who also use Damminix, the better. Damminix appears to help control tick populations, particularly in the year following initial use. Note that it is not effective on the West Coast of America.
A potential alternative to Damminix's permethrin is fipronil. It is used in the Maxforce Tick Management system, in which fipronil is painted onto rodents visiting the plastic baitboxes. This system is no longer generally available for sale by Bayer. In 2005, there were selective reports of grey squirrels "chewing" into some Maxforce TMS boxes in areas of the northeastern United States, compromising the child resistant box. Due to this problem, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked that all similarly designed TMS boxes applied in 2006 be covered with a protective shroud capable of preventing squirrel damage. The Maxforce TMS system remains registered by the federal EPA for its continued use. A metal shroud has been developed and is reportedly in use to eliminate any potential squirrel damage to the plastic box. This shroud reportedly satisfies the EPA's mandate to protect the boxes from such damage and is recommended by Bayer Environmental Science. Availability outside of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island might be limited, however.
Another "natural" form of control for ticks is the Guineafowl. They consume mass quantities of ticks. Just 2 birds can clear in a single year.
Topical (drops/dust) flea/tick medicines need to be used with care. Phenothrin (85.7%) in combination with Methopren was a popular topical flea/tick therapy for felines. Phenothrin kills adult fleas and ticks. Methoprene is an insect growth regulator that interrupts the insect's life cycle by killing the eggs. However, the EPA has made at least one manufacturer of these products withdraw some products and include strong cautionary statements on others, warning of adverse reactions.
Fossil ticks are rare but not unknown. The oldest example is an argasid (bird) tick from Cretaceous New Jersey amber. The younger Baltic and Dominican ambers have also yielded examples; all of which can be placed in living genera.