How Ticks Hunt
(and spread disease)

According to the CDC, ticks cannot fly nor jump. They also do not drop from trees. What they do however is wait on the edges of fallen leaves or in tall grass or on shrubs (usually no higher than knee height) in a position called questing. According Wikipedia, nymphs and small species of ticks tend to “quest” close to the ground where they may encounter smaller mammals (i.e. mice, rabbits, birds, etc) while adult ticks may climb higher into the vegetation to find larger hosts.

Ticks find their hosts by detecting an animals body odors, breath, heat, vibration from movement and moisture. It is said that some ticks even recognize shadows. When an animal is detected, ticks move into the questing position. A questing tick will hold onto the blade of grass, leaf or shrub with its four rear legs and extend out it’s top four legs waiting for an animal to brush up against it. Once this occurs a tick quickly climbs aboard its new potential host. Then, some ticks will quickly attach the animal while others may crawl around looking for places (like the ear) where the skin can be thinner.

Ticks are usually most active in the spring and fall and more common in wooded areas or on well-worn paths. But do not be fooled into thinking that ticks are only found in the woods. Ticks can be found in parks, your own backyard and, due to some ticks being attracted to carbon monoxide, at the edge of parking lots.

Can Ticks Live and survive In The House?

According the website site tickencounter.org an unfed deer tick is unlikely to survive 24 hours in the house. If the tick is on moist clothing in a hamper it can survive from 2 – 3 days. And if a tick has taken a blood meal it may survive a bit longer, but not for the 30 days it would take for it to mature and either lay eggs or bite again.

Can Ticks crawl up walls?

Yes. Ticks can crawl up walls and even glass bowls (I’ve tested that one).

When are ticks most active?

This depends on the type of tick and stage of life they are in. During the nymphal stage of the Blacklegged tick it is active from late spring to summer (in the Northeast). In their adult stage the Blacklegged (deer) tick can become active as summer turns to fall and then, if temperatures are above freezing and the ground is not covered by snow, remain active all winter. On the other hand, The Lone Star and American dog tick are not really active during the fall or winter.

Can Ticks live through and be active in the colder months?

Unfortunately, ticks do not die after the first frost and even super cold weather does not necessarily mean death to ticks – Which means that the threat of Lyme disease does not disappear after the first frost. Whether or not ticks live through cold winters can be dependent on both temperature and level of exposure. As reported in a recent edition of the Bangor Maine daily news, even if the air temperature is below zero, leaf litter or snow pack (which the ticks are under) can provide an insulating layer and make it relatively warm (for ticks that is) under it. It can be 25, 30 and as high as 35 degrees down close to the ground. In addition, ticks are also good at burrowing in and waiting until the cold passes.

Also something to be aware of…ticks do not hibernate. Ticks put in the refrigerator are usually moving around and active again within seconds of removal. While it may be true that ticks are probably not going to venture out in very cold temperatures (below freezing), as soon as it gets warm enough they’ll be right out looking for a blood meal. Griffin Dill, coordinator for the tick identification program at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Pest Management Office conducted a recent study to learn about the activity of deer ticks and discovered that even at temperatures as low as 35º Fahrenheit that ticks were actively seeking hosts.

How Long Do Ticks Stay attached?

The length of time a tick stays attached can depend on the species of tick. According to the website tickencounter.org larvae remain attached (and feeding) for approximately 3 days, nymphs for 3 – 4 days, and adult females for 7 – 10 days.

How ticks spread disease

A tick is a parasite which means it feeds on it’s hosts blood. A ticks transmits pathogens that cause disease through feeding (on you or your pet). According the the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Depending on the tick species and its stage of life, preparing to feed can take from 10 minutes to 2 hours. When the tick finds a feeding spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface.
  • The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached during the meal. The feeding tube can have barbs which help keep the tick in place.
  • Ticks also can secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so that the animal or person can’t feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed.
  • A tick will suck the blood slowly for several days. If the host animal has a blood-borne infection, the tick will ingest the pathogens with the blood.
    Small amounts of saliva from the tick may also enter the skin of the host animal during the feeding process. If the tick contains a pathogen, the organism may be transmitted to the host animal in this way.
  • After feeding, most ticks will drop off and prepare for the next life stage. At its next feeding, it can then transmit an acquired disease to the new host.

FYI – Blacklegged (deer) ticks that are attached for less than 24 hours are unlikely to have transmitted any infection.

Do Ticks Lay Eggs on Your Pet?

No. After adult females fill up with blood they either leave or fall off their hosts to lay eggs in a safer location (the ground). The bad news is however if a female tick fell off in your home she would very likely find a location within your house (furniture, carpeting, cracks, crevices, pet beds, couches, or even your bedding) to lay her eggs. Then when the hundreds or thousands of larvae hatch (and looking for a blood meal) they could crawl onto your pet. The larvae would then attach itself to your pet, fill itself with blood before it dropped off and became a nymph.

Sources
Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff (January 3, 2018) Bone-chilling weather unlikely to kill off ticks before spring, researchers say https://bangordailynews.com/2018/01/03/homestead/bone-chilling-weather-unlikely-to-kill-off-ticks-before-spring-researchers-say/
Mary Beth Griggs (January 4, 2018) Does all this cold weather mean there will be fewer mosquitoes next summer? (https://www.popsci.com/cold-weather-mosquitoes#page-3
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/life_cycle_and_hosts.html
University of Rhode Island http://www.tickencounter.org/faq/seasonal_information