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Ticks are not technically insects. They are more closely related to spiders and mites. They are a type of ectoparasite that live off of host by attaching to the host from the outside by sucking its blood. Ticks are able to feed off of the blood of birds and mammals and sometimes even reptiles or amphibians to survive. Their presence can cause significant distress and they are carriers for a number of very serious diseases such as Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and anaplasmosis. Among animals, ticks can cause a considerable amount of harm by transmitting a variety of deadly diseases to livestock.
Essentially, the tick requires two basic ingredients from its environment in order to survive: humidity and an adequate number of hosts that it can feed off of. Ticks can be found throughout the world, but they tend to prefer environments that are warm and humid. They require a certain amount of moisture in order to progress through their lifecycle into an adult. Low temperatures, for example, can inhibit their development from egg to larva. And low humidity can make it difficult for the tick to remain properly hydrated. Areas where there is sandy soil, rivers, hardwood trees, and the presence of a good host in suitable numbers such as deer are good predictors of the presence of ticks.
Ticks have only two sections to their body in contrast to insects, which have three. The tick has an anterior section that contains the head and the mouthparts and a posterior section where the legs, and reproductive organs are located. The tick has eight legs each composed of six segments. And to add to the tick’s adaptability, it also has something called the Haller’s organ, which helps the tick to sense odors and chemicals from the host as well as sense temperature changes and air current.
Ticks are able to attach to a host organism and suck blood, which satisfies all their nutritional requirements. Blood is extracted by cutting a hole in the hosts’s skin and then inserting a hypostome which keeps the blood from clotting up as the tick is sucking on it. Larvae may feed on small mammals and birds and detach only when they are ready to molt into nymphs on the ground. After molting they begin to feed on larger host organisms until they finally reach the adult stage. Female adult ticks will attach to larger hosts and feed as well as lay eggs. Males will often take up residence on a larger host, but feed very little. They are primarily preoccupied with mating with the females.
A variety of diseases can be transmitted via the tick bite. These pathogens vary from rickettsia to viruses, protozoa, and bacteria. Any given tick may actually harbor more than one pathogenic organism, so patients that are bitten by a tick may be infected with several diseases at the same time. Indeed, the bite of the tick can even cause a delayed allergy to red meats including anaphylaxis in individuals who have been bitten up to six months prior.