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Whether you are planning a trip to the woods for a hike or hunting season or spending time in your backyard with your family, the chances of being exposed to ticks increases when you’re outdoors. These creatures can live anywhere as long as they have food and water, and to protect yourself and family, you need to know how to check for ticks.
Ticks are one of those creatures that creeps out most people. They are small and gross and suck blood, so they have a lot of strikes against them. They also aren’t too particular about what they feed upon, and they can be found on animals and humans alike. Worst of all, they spread some pretty nasty diseases.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are small creatures that are classified as arachnids, which means that they are in the same family as spiders. They drink blood as their source of food and survival. According to the fossil record, ticks have been around for at least 90 million years, and there are more than 800 species of ticks worldwide.
When you are wondering how to check for ticks, it can be helpful to know what they look like. Ticks can be either hard or soft. If they are hard, they will have a hard plate on their backs. Soft ticks do not possess this feature. They are generally flat or oval in appearance until they eat. Then they can balloon up and turn into a gray or brown bubble that has difficulty moving. Like spiders, they have eight legs and they can be brown, black, reddish-brown, grayish-white, or yellowish in color.
There are three cycles of the tick’s life: larvae, nymph, and adult. All three stages require blood for survival. In most species, the larvae are about the size of a grain of sand, the nymphs are about the size of a sesame or poppy seed, and adults that have not eaten are about the size of a pencil eraser or an apple seed.
Despite some rumors and misinformation, ticks do not fly or drop onto their host. They will find a spot on a piece of vegetation and extend their front legs. When an animal comes by, they will latch on with their legs and then crawl to find the best feeding spot. They may also crawl onto a host if one happens to be close by.
Adult ticks might be particular about the species they latch onto for feeding, but most larvae and nymphs will find any food source they can. Ticks have been found on all kinds of creatures, including snakes, frogs and toads, and birds, as well as mammals.
If ticks don’t eat, they will die. However, some ticks can go for a year or more without eating. Hard ticks can attach to their prey and feed for hours to days. Soft ticks often feed for less than one hour.
In general, ticks live in moist, humid environments close to their hosts. However, they have the ability to adapt to a number of different environments. They can be found in wooded or grassy areas, as well as fields. In rare cases, they can also be found in your home. Although, most species prefer to be outdoors.
Is There a Need to Check for Ticks?
When figuring out how to check for ticks, you may wonder if there’s a need for this task. Ticks carry and transmit diseases which can be deadly to humans and other animals. Thus, it is very important to do tick checks and get them off as soon as possible so that you don’t risk getting sick.
Not all ticks spread disease, and not all of the diseases will make humans sick. However, since the creatures are so small and identifying them can be difficult, it’s best not to take the chance and figure out how to check for ticks and remove them from your body before they have a chance to feed.
Ticks That Transfer Disease
The ticks that are notorious for transferring diseases to humans and animals include the following:
- Wood ticks, also known as American dog ticks
- Deer ticks, also called blacklegged ticks
- Brown dog ticks
- Western blacklegged ticks
- Gulf Coast ticks
- Rocky Mountain wood ticks
- Lone star ticks
Diseases Transferred by Ticks
These ticks are responsible for transmitting different types of disease to their host. Some of the more common diseases are listed below.
This disease can impact both humans and animals. It is a bacterial infection and one of the most common tick-borne diseases that exists. One of the ways to tell if you have Lyme disease is that you will get a tell-tale bulls-eye rash on your body and experience flu-like symptoms. If Lyme disease is left untreated, it can lead to brain and nervous system disorders, joint pain, heart issues, and problems with your memory.
Colorado Tick Fever
This disease is mostly found in the Rocky Mountain states at elevations of 4,000 to 15,000 feet. Symptoms include getting a fever for several days, then feeling fine, then getting a fever for a few more days. For most people, this disease can be mild and easy to overcome.
This is a new disease that has just been discovered. It is believed that this is transmitted by lone star ticks, but it has not yet been confirmed.
Red Meat Allergy
In some cases, being bitten by a lone start tick can cause an allergy to red meat. After eating, this may cause you to break out in hives, have an asthma attack, or even experience anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
This disease is common in the Southeast and usually begins with a bad headache and fever. Most people will break out in a rash that begins on their ankles and wrists before spreading to the rest of the body.
This disease is treated with antibiotics, and for the best result, you’ll need to start it within 5 days after symptoms show up. If left untreated, this disease becomes life threatening because it damages small blood vessels. This can lead to swelling in the heart, lungs, and brain.
A Deep Woods Guide on How to Check for Ticks
Even though most ticks don’t transfer disease, there are a few that do, so knowing how to check for ticks can be beneficial. It’s also important to note that you can get ticks while out in natural settings such as the woods or fields, but they also exist in your backyard. Thus, if you spend a lot of time gardening or doing yard work, checking for ticks when you are done is a good idea.
Steps to Take to Check for Ticks
Before you leave your house, there are steps you can take to decrease the chances of acquiring ticks. These include knowing where ticks are found. Since they can be practically anywhere, but especially in tall grass, low shrubs, and wooded areas, avoid these areas or assume you have a tick after being in these places.
Covering up as much as possible can also help. Wearing long sleeves, tucking your pants into your socks and even putting on repellant can be steps that might reduce your chance of getting a tick on your body. Permethrin is the best repellant to use for this task, but make sure to read the instructions on how to use it properly.
Once you have returned from your outdoor adventure, take the following steps to check for ticks.
Check Your Clothing
Ticks are really good about hanging out on clothing, and this is how they are transferred from one place to another, including into your home. If you want to kill any ticks that are found on your clothing, throw them in the dryer for 10 to 15 minutes. The heat should dehydrate and kill them. If your clothes need to be washed, make sure to set the water to hot, as lukewarm or cold water won’t kill ticks.
Check Your Body
You’ll want to make sure you inspect every inch of your body, paying special attention to behind your knees, in your elbows and armpits, behind your ears, and anywhere you have hair. Ticks love dark, warm spaces. Remember, ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, so keep your eyes open for freckles that you haven’t noticed before or that move.
Take a Shower
Jumping into the shower will give you a chance to do a tick check and rinse off any creatures that haven’t burrowed into your skin.
Check Your Pets
Pets can get ticks just as humans can, so take a moment to check your pet to make sure they haven’t picked one up. You’ll want to look in their ears and around their joints as well. You might also consider using flea and tick medication specially designed for your pet and giving them a bath once you’ve returned from an area that might be infested.
If you’re like most people, you are creeped out by ticks. You certainly don’t want them on you or your loved ones, including your pets. Since they can transmit diseases, it’s good to know how to check for ticks and get them off your body if you find one on you.