Everything You Need to Know About Ticks

There is a scare here in New Jersey being caused by the Longhorned or Bush tick.  This is an exotic tick that comes from China, Japan, and Korea.  It’s not known how it made its way to New Jersey, but it’s here and it’s causing a stir.  It isn’t believed to be of harm to humans but does harm livestock and wildlife.

With this news and the start of flea and tick season, I thought it’s a good time to put out some tick information.

What is a tick?

A tick is an arachnid.  They have 4 life stages:  Egg, Larva (seed tick), Nymph, and Adult. Some ticks have hard shells and others have soft shells.  The hard shell ticks have a plate on their back called a scutum.  Soft shell ticks look wrinkled and their mouth is located underneath their body.  

There are about 90 different types of ticks that live throughout the United States, but they aren’t all active at the same times.  The Tick Encounter provides updates of current activity around the country.  They also collect data and accept tick photos and information.

How long do ticks live?

Hard ticks usually mate on their host and the female can feed, breed, and lay eggs several times before dying.  The female will drop off the host to lay anywhere from a few to several thousand eggs at a time. The entire life-cycle is between 2 and 3 months for one hard tick. Soft ticks can live up to 16 years!

Where do ticks live?

Hard shell ticks are the ones most people are familiar with because they tend to populate the same places we do; hiking trails, grassy fields, and wooded areas.  The soft shell ticks are usually found in animal burrows, caves, and sheds, and prefer hot and dry climates.

Do ticks really drink blood?

Yes.  They live by feeding off the blood of mammals, birds, and occasionally reptiles or amphibians.  Ticks tend to live near the places you would find dogs, cats, livestock, rodents, deer, and people.  Hard ticks tend to feed or look for food more during the daytime and soft ticks are active in the evening and at night.  

Do they all carry diseases and what kinds?

Hard and soft ticks carry different kinds of diseases.  Hard ticks cause more illnesses in the U.S.

Some diseases transmitted by each group of ticks are:

  • Hard ticks
    • Lyme disease
    • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
    • Tularemia
    • Colorado tick fever
    • Human tick-borne ehrlichiosis
    • American babesiosis
    • Tick paralysis
    • STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness)
    • Anaplasmosis
  • Soft Ticks
    • Tick-borne relapsing fever

How do you remove a tick?

Ticks don’t move around like fleas and are easier to see.  They attach themselves and tend to stay in that spot until they are done feeding.  They like to find dark places on the body to hide.

When looking for ticks on yourself or someone else, start by checking where clothing and shoes meet the body.  For example, check the openings of shoes or boots, waistbands, sleeves, and collars. Check behind ears, under arms, and in creases.  When checking your dog or cat, start at the head and work your way down. Run your fingers through their fur like a comb, both looking and feeling for any dark, pea sized lumps.  A sign they might have a tick is excessive biting, licking, or scratching a particular area. If you find a tick, don’t try to just pull it off. You can hurt your pet and end up leaving the head still attached.  

Before attempting to remove a tick, get your supplies ready.  You’ll want a small cup or dish with rubbing alcohol, a few paper towels, and tweezers or a tick removal tool.  I find that tweezers work best and are the easiest to use. People suggest wearing gloves, which you can if you feel better, but I think you have better control using your bare hands.

Using the tweezers, grip the tick by the head as close to the dog’s or person’s skin as possible.  Pull the tick straight out, slowly and firmly, but not so firm that you squeeze it. DO NOT twist the tick, try to burn or squash it, or apply any chemicals to the dog’s or person’s body.  

After removing the tick, place it in the container with the rubbing alcohol, which will kill it. There may be a small wound or some irritation at the site where the tick was attached. This should be cleaned, disinfected, and then apply some triple antibiotic ointment to prevent infection to the site.

How to keep ticks away

There are a number of flea and tick medications available from your local vet and also products for people that are widely available.  

However, if you are looking for a more natural and toxin free way to go, citrus, Lavender, and Eucalyptus all work as natural tick repellents.  Do not apply essential oils directly to the skin.  Essential oil should always be diluted with water and/or mixed with an oil carrier, such as grapeseed oil.  For more information on essential oils go to Blending Essential Oils .

An easy and natural treatment can be made simply by cutting up a lemon and boiling it.  Let the water cool, remove the lemon and discard, and put the lemon water in a spray bottle to use before heading out.

My personal preference is to mix some lavender oil with water and spray that.  I’ve found it to be a fantastic flea repellent, but that’s for another time.

Some common ticks

lone star tick

Lone Star Tick

brown tick

Brown Tick

deer tick - Edited.png

Deer Tick

rocky mountain tick.png

Rocky Mountain Tick