How to Bug Proof Your Home: Ticks

Pest Management In and Around Structures May 28, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF

Introduction

Brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus
Brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus

When a tick feeds it takes up whole blood, extracts the water (about 70-75% volume) and injects the water back into the host. For this reason, they are efficient vectors of a variety of disease causing organisms such as bacteria, spirochetes, rickettsiae, protozoa, viruses, nematodes, and toxins. A single tick bite can transmit multiple pathogens as well as creating secondary infections and allergic reactions. Ticks therefore are the most common transmitters of vector-borne disease in the U.S.

Ticks have four stages in their life cycle, and all require blood from a vertebrate host to survive and complete their development. Like most other arachnids, adult ticks and immatures (nymphs) have four pairs of legs; the larvae (hatchlings) have three pairs. Although there are many species of ticks in Arizona, humans are likely to encounter only three. Two of these, the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) and the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) are “hard ticks”, which belong to the family Ixodidae. The third species, the adobe tick (Argas sanchezi) is a “soft tick” belonging to the family Argasidae.

Rodents and deer are most often associated with ticks; however, between the many species of ticks any wildlife in the yard may be infested. The brown dog tick rarely attacks humans, but is the most pestiferous species from the standpoint of the Arizona homeowner because it is a parasite of their canine pets. During their lifecycle, they frequently drop off the host then climb up walls and vegetation and reattach themselves to a passing host. Larvae can survive as long as eight months and adults as long as 18 months without feeding.

Prevention

  1. Regularly inspect pets for ticks. Remove any ticks from the dog with forceps or eyebrow tweezers. Apply gentle pressure slowly to allow the tick to loosen its mouthparts. Do not use an irritant such as alcohol or nail varnish. Afterwards wash with soap and water and apply a dry dressing over the wound.
  2. Frequently mow your grass short.
  3. Remove leaf litter, brush and woodpiles around houses and at the edges of yards.
  4. Clearing trees and brush to admit more sunlight into the yard reduces the amount of suitable habitat for deer, rodents, and ticks.
  5. When hiking, avoid tall grass and shrubs, wear white or light-colored clothing (attached ticks are more visible) and tuck pant legs into socks.
  6. Occasionally some repellent lotions can also be used.
  7. Routinely check your pets for ticks and remove them immediately.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.