There are more than 800 species of ticks, all of which feed on the blood of mammals, birds and reptiles. While most people know about the tick’s parasitic nature, they may not know that the tick is also a skilled predator, one that can survive lengthy periods between feedings and that can sense a potential host from a great distance. The tick is much more complex than it appears at first glance.
Ticks Have Potent Saliva
The tick’s saliva aids in feeding by keeping blood flowing and preventing it from clotting while the tick is drawing blood from the host. In hard ticks, the saliva also serves as an anesthetic effect and it acts like cement, keeping the tick anchored to the host’s body during feeding and preventing removal. Tick saliva may also hold a cure for several diseases. Scientists have studied proteins in tick saliva as possible treatments for Lyme disease and as a potential treatment for the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis, according to Science Daily.
The Tick is Not an Insect
Many people associate ticks with blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes. However, unlike insects, which have six legs and three body segments, the tick has eight legs and two body segments, placing it in the class of arachnida, phylum arthropoda, the same category as spiders, scorpions, mites and chiggers. There are two families of ticks: ixodidae (hard ticks) and argasidae (soft ticks). Hard ticks have a hard exterior shield, and soft ticks have a soft exoskeleton and no shield.
Not All Ticks Carry Disease
About 100 species of ticks carry and transmit disease, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In dogs, the most common transmitters of disease are the brown dog tick and the American dog tick. According to the Lyme Disease Foundation, humans are most frequently infected by five tick species: amblyomma, dermacentor, ixodes, ornithodoros and rhipicephalus. A single tick bite can transmit multiple diseases, and the longer a tick is attached to the host, the greater the chance of infection. According to National Geographic, the deer tick must stay attached at least 24 hours to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Ticks aren’t born carrying disease. Instead, they acquire disease from hosts and pass it along to subsequent hosts.
Ticks are Skilled and Patient Hunters
Ticks use their sense organs to locate prey, according to the Henry W. Coe State Park website. Ticks can detect animal scent, carbon dioxide and heat, and they lie in wait on nearby vegetation such as grass. When a potential host walks by, they simply climb onto the person or animal. Ticks do not fly and usually do not jump.