Ticks have the ability to cause disease in both humans and animals because they attach themselves so efficiently and firmly when going about the job of procuring a meal. Ticks feed exclusively on the blood of warm-blooded hosts, gaining access to them as they walk through the grass or the woods.
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Ticks have a one-piece body that is somewhat like a seed in appearance. Ticks go through a four-stage life cycle--from egg to larvae to nymph to adult. The larvae that hatch from the eggs have six legs, while the adult tick has eight. Ticks must have a meal of blood to advance through each stage of life after they have hatched from their eggs, with some species of ticks able to live for years without feeding.
A common species of tick is the American dog tick. These ticks are reddish-brown in colour and are as long as 3/16 inch. The female has a silverish spot behind the head and can get as long as 1/2 inch after she has fed, resembling a small grape in appearance. Another common tick, the lone star tick, is minute at the larval stage, with the adults being 1/8 inch long. The female has a white spot, a "lone star" so to speak, in the middle of her back. Deer ticks, which can cause Lyme disease with their bites, are the size of the head of a pin in the stage before adulthood, and they are brown. The adults turn reddish-brown and are 1/8 inch long. The brown dog tick is a species that primarily feeds on canines and looks very much like the adult deer tick. Most ticks that have fed and become engorged on blood appear greyish in colour.
The common misconception about ticks is that they are insects, but in truth they are not. Ticks are members of the arachnid family, with scorpions, mites and spiders. Insects have six legs and a pair of antennae as adults; arachnids, ticks included, have eight legs and lack the antennae on their heads when they reach adulthood. Also, it is believed by many that ticks can jump and even fly, but this is not the case; they can only crawl.
If you are able to remove a tick or find one that you believe has bitten you or your dog, then your local health department should have the resources to help you identify whether it is a carrier of potential diseases. Place the tick in a small container with some rubbing alcohol, making sure that the container does not leak, and bring it to your health officials. Write down the date the tick was found and the location where it was captured.
If a tick has bitten you and is still on you, it will be easy to spot unless it is on a part of your body that you cannot look at, like your back. If the tick has bitten you and is no longer attached, be aware of any rashes on your body that look like a bull's-eye, accompanied by a fever, perhaps, or an unexplained sickness. Tick-borne diseases are treatable with antibiotics, so consult your doctor if you have symptoms of a tick bite or feel that a tick may have bitten you.