Ticks are arachnids that frequent wooded and highly vegetated areas and feed on the blood of their hosts.
Certain species of ticks have preferred hosts, for example, the Deer Tick, or, black-legged tick, a major vector of Lyme Disease is often found harbouring on white-tailed deer. However, ticks will feed indiscriminately on any host when in need.
According to Public Health Ontario’s recent, “Technical Report: Update on Lyme disease prevention and control,” black-legged tick populations are expanding in Southern Ontario. Climate change, forest fragmentation resulting from human activity, the expanded range of black-legged tick hosts like mice, deer, and migratory birds mean that infectious tick bites can be encountered almost anywhere in Ontario. Black-legged ticks are a three-host tick, which means that they feed and can contract/spread diseases and pathogens at each developmental stage: larval, nymphal and adult. Contraction of Lyme Disease is greatest during the peak Summer months of June, July and August when hard-to-spot larvae and nymphs are the most active, with adults being the most active in the Spring and Fall. The estimated risk areas for carrier tick populations in Ontario can be found in the province’s technical report here.
Although the black-legged tick is the main focus of current, tick-related research and public health in Ontario, there are approximately 900 known species of ticks divided into Hard and Soft Tick categories with a range of other diseases that can be transmitted to people, pets and livestock. Common ticks found in Canada are Deer Ticks, Western Black-legged Ticks, Ixodes angustus (no common name), The Lone Star Tick, American Dog Tick, Brown Dog Tick and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick.
Thankfully, ticks must typically feed on the host body for upwards of 24 hours to successfully transmit a disease, physical control measures and thorough checks of persons, pets and objects when returning from wooded areas go a long way in preventing the transmission of dangerous diseases.
Certain ticks are capable of surviving for extended periods of time without a host body. In addition soft and Brown Dog ticks are adept at infesting homes and surviving indoors, hiding in cracks and crevices, rodent nests and plants. An infestation of ticks in your home is a serious concern, if ticks, the fluids they secrete or symptoms of the diseases they carry are recognized, contact your doctor or veterinarian and immediately call Addison Pest Control to schedule an inspection and treatment tailored for you.
Hard Ticks are three host ectoparasites with protective plates on their backs called ‘scutums’. Usually found in wooded or grassy areas, a hard tick will feed on a single host for up to a week before moulting at the larval, nymphal and adult stages. Hard tick, six-legged larvae will typically feed off of mice, birds or other small animals as soon as possible after hatching. It is usually at the larval stage that ticks will contract bacteria leading to the transmission of dangerous diseases like Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever at the nymphal and adult stage. Dependent on host availability and preference, hard ticks may return to the same host for the duration of their life cycle, although they will typically turn their attention to larger hosts further up the food chain (dogs, deer, livestock, and humans) in the nymphal and adult stages. Most active during the Summer months, eight-legged nymphs pose the greatest threat for disease transmission to humans and pets due to their hard-to-spot size and an increase in human activity in parks and along trails. Unable to fly or jump, ticks will instead ‘quest’ for hosts. In response to carbon dioxide or heat and vibration stimuli, ticks will climb a blade of grass or move to the edges of leaves, stretch their front legs forward, and mount an unsuspecting host as it brushes past. Once attached, the tick will move around the body and select a preferred feeding site typically on the neck or head.
Adult females, much larger than nymphs and adult males will feed and become engorged with the blood of the host body, leave, and lay several thousand eggs (up to 5000) before dying. They typically live between 2 months and three years and can survive months without blood meals. Sexually dimorphic, adult females and males differ not only in size but also in colouration. Although most hard ticks prefer to live outdoors, it is possible for them to infest your home, breeding rapidly, especially if other pests, like mice, rats, birds, or the nests they parasitize are in, or around, the structure.
Usually found in ramshackle structures, bird or rodent nests, Soft Ticks, like Hard Ticks are ectoparasites, except unlike Hard Ticks, they do not have a scutum, leading their bodies to appear soft and wrinkled. Soft Ticks can enter the structures of a home (especially if it is old, poorly constructed/maintained, a cabin) to find susceptible host bodies, and will feed on humans and animals before retreating to the cracks, crevices, and host nests within the structure. Soft Ticks will typically not remain on the host body after their short periods of feeding but will instead live within the host’s nest, or nearby. The feeding behaviour of many Soft Ticks is comparable to fleas or bedbugs; once established, they reside in the nest of the host (a human bed or animal den), feeding rapidly before returning to their harbourage. Typically nocturnal feeders, soft ticks feed more frequently than hard ticks and undergo several moulting periods over the course of their life cycle.
The outside surface (called the cuticle) of soft ticks can expand between five to ten times the weight of their unfed body. Incredibly, Soft Ticks can survive for up to 16 years, laying groups of 20-50 eggs after every feeding (leading to massive populations dependent on blood meal availability). Unlike Hard Ticks, their mouthparts are located on their undersides and so are not visible from above.
Approximately 170 species of soft tick are known to exist in the world. Although less likely than hard ticks to parasitize humans, soft ticks are also known to be vectors of various diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tick-borne relapsing fever.
When entering a suspected tick populated, or heavily-wooded area:
Wear light clothing, long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks. Repellents: Permethrin clothing treatment kills ticks, and deet-based skin repellent helps repel them. Contact your veterinarian for treatments against ticks for pets. Always inspect clothing, people and pets before returning indoors. Ticks are drawn to moist and warm areas on their host bodies; be sure to check the scalp, nape, behind the ears, armpits, groin, navel and knees. Always check twice. Immediately wash and dry all clothing on high heat and be sure to shower as soon as possible.
If you find a Tick on a person or pet:
Grasp the Tick behind the head using tweezers and slowly remove it from the host (fingers can be carefully used if an appropriate tool is not on hand, wash hands thoroughly before and after Tick removal). Do not crush the Tick; crushing may lead to the release of dangerous fluids. Ensure that the mouthparts of the Tick are fully removed and thoroughly wash the infected area. Seek medical attention. Save the Tick body for testing and diagnosis.
Tick Infestation Control Measures:
Ticks and other ectoparasites can enter the home on just about anything, on clothing, pets, people, and plants. When returning from any densely vegetated or wooded area where tick harbourages and activity are suspected, it is crucial to perform thorough checks of all incoming living and non-living objects and immediately launder clothing. Although most ticks will not survive without being able to feed on an active host body and are not inclined to live indoors, soft ticks and Brown Dog ticks are adept at invading homes and establishing harbourages just about anywhere with easy access to a blood meal.
A structural tick infestation is a serious matter. If ticks are encountered in your home, or in the another structure on your property, call Addison Pest Control immediately and schedule an inspection by a trained technician who will be able to identify your pest problem and develop an integrated pest management plan (IPM) to control your tick population.
Certain preventative measures can be taken as part of a system of physical controls: Repair crevices and gaps around the structure, paying particular attention to possible entry points from outdoors. Keep your grass cut and maintain an organic free barrier of at least 1m around the exterior walls of the structure using gravel or woodchips. Dispose of all animal nesting material, and evict other pest populations in and around your property as ticks parasitize most rodent and avian pest species. Keep your lawn free of debris and leaf litter, keep children’s playsets clear of wooded areas.
Ticks found/removed from a person can be tested for Borrelia burgdorferi (bacteria causing Lyme disease) using the information here: http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=82304289cc0bd410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=6b4b1353c70bd410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
Toronto Tick Surveillance: http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=bef2cb0ecee61510VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=6b4b1353c70bd410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
Ontario Tick Surveillance: