Ticks

Family: 
Ixodidae (hard ticks) in the order Ixodida (ticks)
Description: 

Our 3 species of hard ticks are mites with 8 legs, a small plate over their mouthparts and skin so tough it’s hard to crush one. Adults are 1/16  to 1/4 inch long (about the size of a sesame seed). When engorged with blood, they swell up to about 3/8 inch long and turn gray. During the larval “seed tick” stage, ticks have 6 legs and are about as large as a poppy seed.

Three species of hard ticks are commonly encountered in Missouri. Most common are the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) and American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). The deer tick, or blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), is also common.

Lone star tick—Females are easily identified by the white dot in the center of the back. Males often have dots or white streaks on the edge of their bodies.

American dog tick—Newly hatched larvae are yellow. Adults are brown. Blood-engorged females are gray.

Deer tick (blacklegged tick)—Legs and upper body are black.

Size: 
Body length: to 1/4 inch.
Habitat and conservation: 
Most ticks are found in woodlands, tall grasses, weeds and brushy areas. They’re most common in overgrown vacant lots, waste fields and weedy edges of paths and trails, especially where wildlife is abundant. Pets that go outdoors can bring ticks indoors with them. Ticks are most active April–July. If you walk in likely tick habitat, check yourself often for ticks. Use tick repellents. Always check yourself thoroughly at the end of the day, using a mirror. Learn how to remove ticks properly.
Foods: 
Hard ticks suck blood, parasitizing mammals, including humans. They cannot jump or fly but only crawl. Their foraging strategy is called “questing,” where they climb to the top of a grass stem or branch of a bush, hold on with their hind legs, and extend their front pair of hooklike legs, waiting for a likely host to brush by. Ticks sense exhaled carbon dioxide and emitted body odors, as well as vibrations and changes in light, which can alert them to a possible approaching meal.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Statewide.
Status: 
Common. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ehrlichiosis and other diseases. If you are bitten, keep an eye out for unusual flulike symptoms or rashes for the next few weeks, such as a circular or oval red rash or bump at the bite site that expands like a bull’s-eye, or a dark-spotted rash, or fever, headache, backache, aching or stiff muscles and joints and swollen glands. Keep watch, because it is essential to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Life cycle: 
Ticks begin life as eggs. When they emerge as 6-legged larvae, they’re called “seed ticks.” After a blood meal, typically from a small rodent, the larva drops off its host, molts and becomes an 8-legged nymph. After attaching to and feeding on another mammal, the nymph drops to the ground and transforms into an 8-legged adult. Soon after feeding and mating, which usually occurs on a host, the adult male dies. The female drops to the ground to lay thousands of eggs; then she dies.
Human connections: 
Remove embedded ticks promptly. You cannot make a tick remove itself; you must pull it out. Use tweezers. Lightly pinch the tick as close to your skin as possible (don’t squeeze the tick’s body fluids into yourself). Pull straight out. Wash and disinfect the area; apply antibiotics.
Ecosystem connections: 
We find parasites’ life strategy abhorrent, but they are a part of nature. Instead of killing the animals they eat, parasites take only small amounts, allowing their hosts to live another day. However, disease-causing bacteria take advantage of their lifestyle, moving from tick to mammal in turn.