Ticks are small blood sucking members of the spider family. There are about 20 different types in Britain, and many feed only on wild animals or coastal birds. The most common species is the deer or sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus. This tick feeds on a number of animals such as mice, deer and farm animals. They also bite humans and their pets, particularly dogs.
The larvae have six legs, whereas nymphs and adult ticks have eight legs. The larvae are about the size of a poppy seed and look very much like a speck of dirt. A well fed adult tick looks like a grain of rice. They vary in colour from a pale pink to a grey-blue shade.
They are found in numerous outdoor habitats preferring moist damp areas such as woodland, grassland, moorland and heathland. They can also be found in urban parks and gardens, especially where there are deer or other large animals.
If it's a mild winter, they can be active all year but they tend to be most active during late spring and early summer. They are very sensitive to changes in temperature and can dry out very easily. They often climb up and down the vegetation depending on the humidity.
The life of a tick begins as an egg. When the egg hatches a six legged larva emerges. The larva usually feeds on small mammals or a bird. After feeding it drops to the ground to digest its food and begins to grow. It usually molts within three weeks and becomes a nymph with four pairs of legs. The nymph then seeks a blood meal from a mammal, bird or lizard. They complete their meal within a couple of days and drop off the host, just like the larva. The nymph molts again to become an adult. The mature tick then seeks a further host after which it mates. The male dies after mating and the female goes on to lay a batch off eggs before dying. This lifecycle could last over a three-year period.
Ticks live in leaf litter. When conditions are right, they climb to the tips of vegetation like grass and bracken and wait for an animal to walk past. They cannot see, but they can detect carbon dioxide, heat and the movement of a passing animal. They do not jump or fly, but with hooks on the end of their legs they grab onto animals as they brush past the vegetation. They have a needle-like barbed mouth part called a hypostome. This is pushed into the skin prior to feeding. The barbs on the mouthpart face backward making it difficult to dislodge whilst it is feeding.
They prefer moist areas of the animal but will bite anywhere on the body where an area of exposed skin is found. Common areas to find them are the waist, arm pits, groin, behind the knee and along hair lines. These are prime areas you need to examine if you think you may have been in contact with ticks.
Evidence suggests that tick saliva has a number of properties, including a local anaesthetic. This may be one reason why many people are unaware of being bitten. If you have been in contact with a typical tick habitat, it is wise to check yourself, your children and pets.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease can include a slowly expanding circular reddish rash, flu-like feeling, fatigue, muscle and joint pain. Most cases are cleared up with a course of antibiotics, but without treatment, more serious conditions such as meningitis, facial palsy, nerve damage and arthritis can develop, and so prevention and early detection are crucial. If you develop any of these symptoms, visit your GP and remember to tell them you have been bitten by a tick.
Some ticks are infected with bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme borreliosis or Lyme disease. The bacteria are passed onto humans whilst the tick is feeding, and infection can be serious if not treated. There are other diseases, but Lyme disease is by far the most common in the UK.
The safest way of removing a tick is using a fine pair of tweezers or a tick removal tool. Grasp it as close to the head as possible. Pull firmly upwards if using a pair of tweezers. If using a tick removal tool, you also need to use a twisting motion. After removing the tick clean the bite area with an antiseptic wipe. Keep an eye on the area for several weeks in case a rash develops, which may be a sign of Symptoms of Lyme Disease.
There are a number of reputable dealers if you search the internet.
Veterinary practices often sell them too.