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Ticks: A Bloodsucking Story - Complete (and Creepy) Facts about Ticks

by Brian Baer 13 Jan 2024

And now for everyone’s favorite subject, the tick.  Why do we need to share this information about the bloodsucking little pests?  They are nasty, scary-looking disease spreading arachnids.  Because there is such justified fear of these little creatures, we need to understand them so we can keep our loved ones safe from their harmful diseases.

Before we trudge into the facts about ticks and allow the fear mongering demons in your brain to paralyze you from ever stepping foot outside again, keep in mind that the best and safest protection from tick bites is Zone Insect Repellent spray with Picaridin (cue the shameless but powerful promotion music and then see Picaridin! “You're simply the best, better than all the rest”).

In the United States, ticks spread potentially life-threatening diseases.  Diseases transmitted via a living thing is called a vector disease.  Mosquitoes fall into this category as they transmit numerous diseases as well (see Fight Victor!  The Vector-borne Disease and Mosquitoes: The Complete Buzzing Facts).

When it comes to ticks, ignorance is the opposite of bliss.  We must know what ticks look like, where they live, how they find us (their food source) and what to do if one buries itself into your skin (assuming you didn’t protect yourself with Zone).  As stated throughout history, knowledge of your enemy is the first step to victory.

Ticks are arachnids and not insects. They have eight legs and look like fat spiders rather than mosquitoes or flies.  Quick fun fact question:  What do tiny little ticks and elephants have in common?  Neither can jump or fly!  I believe I am the first writer to find commonality between ticks and elephants so you can mail my Pulitzer to the address shown.  😊 

So, if ticks cannot jump or fly, how do they get to your blood? 

These arachnids have a strategy called “questing”.  Ticks find their hosts by detecting the breath (CO2) and body odors or by sensing body heat, moisture and the vibrations of your footsteps.  Some species can even recognize a shadow (that’s a movie waiting to happen).  The CDC says that ticks pick a place by an identified, well-used pathway.  Now, I understand that some biologists devote exorbitant amounts of time in field study but how did they determine a tick can recognize a well-used path?  Logic dictates that to avoid ticks, one should avoid well-used paths and venture off the beaten trail.  No? 

The opportunistic ticks rest on the tips of grasses and shrubs and wait or “quest” for you to walk past.  They hold onto the leaves of grass by their third and fourth pair of legs and hold their first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to attach and climb on to the host.  Once it has hitched a ride, some ticks will bite and burrow into your skin immediately and others will wander looking for thinner skin like the ear where it is easier to extract blood. It is a devious method for a meal to be sure.

Bad News and Good News:  Scientists have identified thousands of tick species across the world but only a handful really cause Americans problems.  However, some of those problems (i.e. diseases and illness) can be very severe.

Tick Transmitted Diseases (reprinted from the CDC website)

Anaplasmosis is transmitted to humans by tick bites primarily from the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern and upper midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.

Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Most human cases of babesiosis in the U.S. are caused by Babesia microti. Babesia microti is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and is found primarily in the northeast and upper midwest.

Borrelia mayonii infection has recently been described as a cause of illness in the upper midwestern United States. It has been found in blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Borrelia mayonii is a new species and is the only species besides B. burgdorferi known to cause Lyme disease in North America.

Borrelia miyamotoi infection has recently been described as a cause of illness in the U.S. It is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and has a range similar to that of Lyme disease.

Bourbon virus infection has been identified in a limited number patients in the Midwest and southern United States. At this time, we do not know if the virus might be found in other areas of the United States.

Colorado tick fever is caused by a virus transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni). It occurs in the the Rocky Mountain states at elevations of 4,000 to 10,500 feet.

Ehrlichiosis is transmitted to humans by the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum), found primarily in the southcentral and eastern U.S.

Heartland virus cases have been identified in the Midwestern and southern United States. Studies suggest that Lone Star ticks can transmit the virus. It is unknown if the virus may be found in other areas of the U.S.

Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern U.S. and upper midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.

Powassan disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the groundhog tick (Ixodes cookei). Cases have been reported primarily from northeastern states and the Great Lakes region.

Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis is transmitted to humans by the Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum).

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is transmitted by the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sangunineus) in the U.S. The brown dog tick and other tick species are associated with RMSF in Central and South America.

STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness) is transmitted via bites from the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum), found in the southeastern and eastern U.S.

Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected soft ticks. TBRF has been reported in 15 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming and is associated with sleeping in rustic cabins and vacation homes.

 Tularemia is transmitted to humans by the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Tularemia occurs throughout the U.S.

 364D rickettsiosis (Rickettsia phillipi, proposed) is transmitted to humans by the Pacific Coast tick (Dermacentor occidentalis ticks). This is a new disease that has been found in California.

 And, it doesn’t stop there…

Alpha-gal popped up a few years ago and for all of the American-made men and women out there who love their steaks and burgers, this disease creates a syndrome that gives you an allergy to red meat.

Alpha-gal (galactose-α-1,3-galactose) is a sugar molecule found in most mammals. It is not normally found in fish, reptiles, birds, or people.

There is evidence that the alpha-gal molecule is found in the saliva of certain types of ticks.

What is alpha-gal syndrome (AGS)?

Alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) (also called alpha-gal allergy, red meat allergy, or tick bite meat allergy) is a serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. AGS may occur after people eat red meat or are exposed to other products containing alpha-gal.

Scared now?  Remember, the best way to protect yourself and loved ones from getting a tick-bite in the first place is to apply Zone Insect Repellent (scented or non-scented) to your shoes, socks and exposed skin before venturing out where ticks may be waiting (questing).

Now, a few interesting facts about Ticks.

  • Ticks can be active even in the winter. Deer ticks, for instance, become active after the first frost and will move around any winter day that the ground is not snow-covered or frozen. 
  • Ticks can spread multiple diseases at once. The bloodsuckers also like to feed on mice, birds, rabbits and deer.  As they move from mammal to mammal, they infect their hosts with certain pathogens and pick-up other disease-causing bacteria themselves.  For example, the blacklegged deer tick can spread Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis in one bite.  Convenient, I know.
  • Disease transmission rates are not always instantaneous. The CDC says that if you can remove a tick within 24 hours, your chances of getting Lyme disease are low.  However, better be safe and wear your Zone!
  • Most internet home remedies don’t work. Like with many things, you can always find a plethora of advice, most of it ineffective.  People recommend rubbing petroleum jelly, gasoline, nail polish or isopropyl alcohol on a tick to suffocate it.  The problem is that researchers say ticks can survive long periods without air.  The best way to remove a tick after you failed to wear your Zone Repellent (sorry, couldn’t help it) is to obtain a pair of pointy tweezers, grab the part of the tick’s mouth or sucker and pull up carefully and steadily.  Clean the area afterwards with soap/water/alcohol. 

Just writing this, I have been feeling the phantom sensations of something crawling on me.  Yes, I’m inside at a desk, but still.  How about a few more and then we are done.

  • Ticks hatch from eggs and develop through three stages: larvae (size of a grain of sand), nymphs (size of a poppy seed) and adults (size of an apple seed or larger).  Lyme disease carrying deer ticks look like the poppy seed variety.
  • Opossums are tick killers. Ticks favor opossums twice as much as other rodents, Syracuse University researchers claim.  But, opossums kill almost every tick that they host.  As it turns out, opossums are excellent groomers and find and eat more than 95% of the ticks that try to feed on them.  This equates to over 5,500 ticks per week.  So, try not to run over opossums anymore.
  • 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.

Well, I hope this article has been informative and not too scary.  The key takeaway is that tick bites are preventable.  Wearing protective clothing and using Zone Insect Repellent.

For the best Picaridin-based, safe and effective tick repellent on the market, goto

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