What Is a Tick and Where Do Ticks Come From?

We often speak of ticks and mites as if they were two separate groups of arachnids, but ticks are really nothing more than very large, blood-sucking mites that take their meals from reptiles, birds, or mammals.

In North America, there are only two families of ticks: the hard ticks, which have the body more or less covered on top by a hard, patterned shield; and the soft ticks, which are leathery and relatively soft-bodied everywhere.

Soft ticks live in the nest or sleeping place of their host: in burrows, caves, cracks, and crevices.

They parasitize snakes, birds, bats, and several other mammals including humans, visiting the host frequently to take many small blood meals of short duration.

They lay their eggs, usually a thousand or less, in the nest of the host.

Like the soft ticks, hard ticks, as a group, take blood from various reptiles, birds, and mammals, but they do not live in the nest of the host.

The eggs, usually several thousand of them, are laid on the ground and the young ticks must climb onto a passing animal for a blood meal.

They climb to some high point such as the tip of a leaf or a blade of grass and grab onto passing animals with their front legs.

Some hard ticks must board and feed from as many three different host animals before they grow to adulthood and lay eggs, and they may have to stay on the same host for several days before they can fully engorge themselves.

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