Different types of ticks

Unlike popular belief, ticks are not insects but arachnids that belong to Arthropoda phylum, the biggest phylum in the animal kingdom. These blood-sucking simple arthropods have 4 legs and modest eyes. They are relatively closer to the family of scorpions and spiders than insects.

Tick bites can cause a variety of diseases. Hence, it is best to consult a doctor whenever affected by a tick bite.

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Most of us are only aware about deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, but there are many different types of ticks, nearly 800 different species. Some of the common types of ticks that cause diseases in animals and humans are listed below.Hard ticks and soft ticks are the two main categories of ticks.

  • Hard ticks: Hard ticks feature a hard cover on their backs and their mouth parts jut from the head. They are also called Ixodidae. They typically embed into the skin of the host for feeding. Their prey can be humans, mammals, and domestic and wild animals. Hard ticks feature a larva, nymph, and adult stage; they begin a new stage of their life cycle after ever blood meal. In one life, a hard tick may feed on just 3 victims. They can live without feeding for several years. The most common hard ticks in the US are the brown tick and the American dog tick.
  • Soft ticks: Referred to as the Argasidae, soft ticks feature leathery, solid skin. They live in nests or caves and feed on birds, bats, and animals that nest on the ground. Humans can get exposed to soft ticks at campsites or in caves. Soft ticks experience many molts/sheds during the nymph developmental phase. As compared to hard ticks, soft ticks feed a lot more but do not do so nonstop on one victim. Soft ticks intermittently stop feeding on one host and latch onto another. It is easy to see their mouth parts from the top. They carry varied bacteria which cause different illnesses like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, tick-borne recurrent fever, tularemia and babesiosis. The spinose ear tick is the most common soft tick found in America.

About 90 species of ticks occur in North America, 80 come from the hard shell tick family, while 10 belong to the soft shell tick family. A few common different types of ticks are mentioned below.

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  • Rhipicephalus sanguineus: Commonly referred to as the brown dog tick, it is a reddish brown tick from the R. sanguineus species. They usually invade and feed on dogs and occur in dog kennels and houses. They can grow up to one-eighth of an inch and are most widespread in Arizona. Most of their full life cycle is spent indoors. They do not cause any known disease in humans.
  • Dermacentor variabilis: Widespread in Eastern US, the D. variabilis species of ticks are commonly called the American dog tick. Adult ticks can grow up to 3/16th of an inch and can become half an inch long post feeding. Their shield has variable markings. Hundreds of ticks can latch onto dogs if they run across a meadow. The nymph and larva feed on mice while the adult forms feed on dogs and bigger animals. Female ticks can lay thousands of eggs that can hatch in about 2 months or less. The ticks can cause tick paralysis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  • Amblyomma maculatum: Commonly called Gulf coast ticks, the A. maculatum species of ticks mostly occur in the southeastern states. Their sexes are easily identifiable. They are very tiny and grow up to only 3/32 inches. Nymphs and larvae feed on bird that dwell on the ground, while adult ticks cling to the ears of cattle and deer for feeding purposes. They crawl and attach to the skin of humans, often causing a painful tick bite. These ticks are carriers of the bacteria that cause the dreaded Lyme disease. They detect carbon dioxide or vibrations from a passing host by waving their legs in the air. You may use tweezers to carefully remove the tick from the skin if you see the blood sucking arachnid. It is best to immediately visit a doctor after detecting a tick bite.
  • Ixodes scapularis: The I. scapularis species of ticks are prevalent in southeastern US, often along paths, trails, and roads. Adult ticks have dark brown or black legs along with a reddish brown body. Hence, they are popularly known as the black-legged ticks.
  • Amblyomma americanum: Females belonging to the A. americanum species of ticks feature a silver mark on their dorsal coat and hence they are also known as the lone star tick. Their mouth parts are long which can puncture the skin and cause pus sores.
  • Raillet/Argas radiates:The A. radiates tick species invade poultry houses and can kill or injure chickens. They may also prey on humans. Some of its several names include tick bug, fowl tick, and blue bug.
  • Ixodes ricinus:Commonly called sheep tick or castor bean tick, the I. ricinus tick species are hard shell ticks and carriers of pathogens that cause Lyme disease and meningoencephalitis in humans and louping disease in sheep.
  • Ornithodoros turicata: The O. turicata species of ticks are soft ticks that typically infect rodents and live in mouse and rat habitats. Their mouth parts cannot be seen from the top. The ticks cause relapsing fever in humans and hence are also called relapsing fever ticks.
  • Boophilus microplus/Rhipicephalus microplus: Also called southern cattle tick, the R. microplus tick species prey on horses, cattle, sheep, and goats and can transfer numerous germs onto the victims, which can result in widespread cattle fatalities and financial losses.
  • Dermacentor abaensis: The D. abaensis species of ticks feed on caribou, moose, cattle, and elk. Hence they are also called elk ticks, winter ticks, or moose ticks. They spend their entire life cycle attached to the prey. They do not transmit any pathogens to the host nor cause any diseases in humans. Animals with elevated infestation may however die due to hypothermia and emaciation. Affected animals may exhibit patches of lost fur as well as increased grooming.
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