Ticks: Lifecycle, Removal and Lyme Disease

Ticks, where they come from and how they spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.

| June/July 1999

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    A well-fed tick towers over its hungry neighbor.
  • 174-12-03
    The lifecycle of a dog tick.

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  • 174-12-03

One of the best things about growing up in the country is being able to go outside anytime you want. One of the worst things is all the bugs you have to put up with especially ticks. I remember as a boy how we'd "look" ourselves for ticks after playing outside. Often, we'd find one or two. Sometimes we'd be covered-on our pants, down our shirts, in our ears. It was the kind of thing that made you want to spit. And always there was the fear you might get Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The experience raised a lot of questions for me: Where do ticks come from? How can there he so many? (We found three in my cousins ear once after collecting pop bottles from along the road!) What should you do after a tick has latched on? And how dangerous is Rock Mountain spotted fever. anyway?

Before jumping into these ticklish queries, a little background, taxonomically speaking, is in order. First, there's, the animal kingdom that much is easy Then phylum: for ticks it's Arthropoda which in layman's terms means joint legged creature. Next is class: spiders, scorpions, ticks and mites (all of which have eight legs and no antennae) make up the Arachnida class. Ticks are then singled out under the super family Ixodoidea and then divided into two distinct subfamilies, Argasidae (soft ticks) and Ixodidae (hard ticks) Distinctions within a family are denoted by genus and species, with about 800 species described worldwide.

Both hard and soft ticks are potential disease carriers, but hard ticks are the main vectors in transmitting tick-borne diseases to man.

Lifecycle of the Tick

Where do ticks come from? They come from eggs a one-time batch of as many as 5,000 per female in hard-tick species. The larvae that hatch out are called seed ticks. These are not "worms." as the stage name might suggest, but miniature versions of adult ticks. Seed ticks have only six legs and are unable to reproduce. Their top priority is getting their first meal.

For a deer tick-the primary carrier of Lyme disease-this is not what you'd call an exercise in fine dining. Deer ticks prefer back-alley eateries like the Rat's Back or Mouse Far Lounge. The meals at these places are enormous. Adult ticks can take on anywhere from 200 to 600 times their unfed body weight. But as it goes with back-alley eateries, sanitation is sometimes a problem. And so along with its meal, the larva may also ingest a spiral shaped spirochete bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi, the organism that causes Lyme disease.

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