Class Arachnida: Order Acari

ticks on grass

Ticks are a well known and widely despised group of organisms.  They are easily recognized by their single body segment and eight legs.  All ticks are parasites and must feed on blood to grow and reproduce.  Some ticks vector viruses, bacteria, and even protozoans; that is, they are capable of transmitting disease-causing agents from one host to another as they feed.  There are actually two groups, or families, of ticks: the hard ticks (the kind that you pull off of your dog) and the soft ticks (which you have probably never seen).  They differ in a number of ways including appearance, method of attaining a host, and number of life stages.

Family Ixodidae: The Hard Ticks

California’s varied habitats are home to 31 species of hard ticks.  These ticks have four life stages: egg, two sub-adult stages (larva and nymph), and adult.  Both sub-adults and adults may be found in grass, brush, leaf litter, on tree trunks and rocks.  Hard ticks are exposed in the environment in an attempt to hitch a ride on a passing host.  The tick climbs on, attaches and feeds for multiple days.  A hard tick’s appearance changes drastically as it feeds; what starts off looking smooth and hard becomes swollen and distorted.  Adult females gorge on so much blood that they increase in size by as much as ten times.  Once a sub-adult feeds, most drop off of the host and molt to the next life stage.  A few species of hard ticks remain on a single host, molting and feeding repeatedly.  Adults feed once to become sexually potent (males) or to produce eggs (females).  In Lake County, three types of hard ticks are commonly encountered by people and outdoor pets.   Large images of all three species are available at Tick Encounter, a website maintained by the University of Rhode Island.  Additional information about tick ecology and tickborne disease (diseases spread by ticks) may be found at the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

hard ticks


Family Argasidae: The Soft Ticks

Soft ticks are irregular in shape, and textured in appearance which makes them well-camouflaged.  These are odd-looking creatures; not unlike a clump of dirt with legs.  Soft ticks hide until a host lays down nearby, then rush out to feed. These fast-moving ticks typically feed for 30-60 minutes at a time.  Soft ticks have between nine and twelve life stages: egg, larva, six to nine nymphal stages, and adult.  Because these ticks feed quickly they grow incrementally.  Mature females feed repeatedly and produce many small batches of eggs during their life.  There is only one soft tick commonly found in Lake County.


Tick Card

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