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Tiny, Tenacious, Terrible Ticks

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Published on: May. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

on the branches of bushes. They hold on with their three pairs of back legs and extend their hooked front legs away from their body.

When a potential host brushes against the vegetation,the tick's extended legs snag fur, hair or clothing. This pulls them off the vegetation. Ticks sense exhaled carbon dioxide and emitted body odors, and will crawl a short distance to the source. They also detect vibrations and changes in light intensity caused by movement. These alert them to an approaching potential meal.

The habitat of hard ticks supports their questing behavior. They frequent woods, tall grass, weeds and brushy areas. Overgrown, vacant lots, waste farm-fields, and weedy edges of paths and trails are prime tick areas, particularly where wildlife is abundant. They are not typically found in well-maintained lawns.

Missouri has many species of ticks, but the two most often encountered hard ticks are the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). The deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), sometimes called the blacklegged tick, is another common Missouri species.

The lone star tick is reported to be one of the most aggressive ticks and actually will pursue a potential host a relatively long distance. The female of this species is easily identified by the white dot in the center of her back.

The American dog tick is found throughout most of the United States. Newly hatched larvae are yellow. Adults are brown. Blood-engorged females become slategray.

These ticks are most active from April through July. Another tick that parasitizes dogs and may be carried inside the home to become an indoor pest is the brown dog tick. It is one of the most widely distributed ticks in the world and can infest window and door moldings, baseboards and furniture if brought into the house by the family pet.

Ticks and Disease

Any tick bite is dangerous because of the threat of disease. The three most prevalent tick-borne diseases are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by a rickettsia, a species of bacteria. The disease was originally called black measles because of its characteristic dark spotted rash on victims. It occurs throughout the United States. The American dog tick is the primary carrier, but the lone star tick is also suspected.

Disease symptoms appear in three to 12 days after the initial bite and include high fever, headache, backache, aching muscles and a rash that starts on

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