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 Ticks – eww.  Is the first thing that comes to mind Lyme Disease?  Or, maybe you think of a parasite meant for animals rather than humans. Or, perhaps you haven’t given them much thought at all.  Whether or not you think about ticks, they may be thinking about you. Spending time outdoors and in natural settings increases your chances of encountering these blood-sucking bugs. Take a look at the life cycle of ticks and find out how to prevent them from biting you!

The Life Cycle of a Tick

In general, ticks don’t have a lengthy lifespan, but it is enough time for them to wreak havoc on their host.  According to the CDC, the average life cycle spans the course of two years.  During those couple of years, ticks go through four phases: egg, larva, nymph, and adult.  To get to the next stage, they must feast on an unsuspecting animal’s blood.  Otherwise, the tick will die before making it to the next phase.  Knowing the life cycle of a tick will help you know what to expect and when so you can prevent tick bites. 

  1. Eggs – Like all living, breathing things, ticks begin in egg form. McHenry County, IL Health Department says that the adult female will typically lay eggs in the early spring. The eggs hatch as the temperature warms. The egg to hatch period can take up to 60 days. Once hatched, the tick must find a blood meal to survive. 
  2. Larva – The larva stage is unique. In this stage, the tick has six legs instead of the usual eight.  They are tiny and can be hard to detect. Often, baby ticks will look for mice and other small animals to get their first meal.  After the larva feeds, it will lie dormant through the winter and molt into the next phase.  
  1. Nymph – When the tick reaches this level, the average size (while bigger) is STILL less than 2 mm. In visual terms, that’s around the size of a poppy seed! In this stage, the tick adds two more legs, bringing them to a total of eight. During this time, they tend to be more active in late spring through the summer months.  Once a new host is found, and the tick gets its meal, it will once again molt to become an adult.   
  1. Adult – This is the final stage of the tick life cycle. These ticks usually wait for their next victim on tall grass or shrubs. They will attach themselves once the animal or person brushes against the grass where they are lurking. They will once again feed, then, mate, and the females will lay eggs to start the cycle all over.

How to Protect Yourself from Ticks

 Ticks aren’t born with pathogens, but they pick them up through infected hosts.  Once infected, the tick will carry the disease for the rest of its life. Believe it or not, nymphs are the most common group of ticks to transmit Lyme disease to humans. Because an adult tick is much easier to detect and remove, they are less likely to spread disease.  Let’s go over the best methods to prevent tick-borne illness.

  • Cover your skin – This may seem obvious, but it is the most effective way to prevent bites. Wear closed-toed shoes with long socks and tuck your pants into them. Most ticks climb on around your legs, so keeping them covered dramatically reduces your risk.  
  • Wear an EPA registered repellent – Products such as Stay Away® Mosquitoes are effective at protecting you against ticks. The active ingredient is Picaridin and provides 14-hour protection.  
  • Pre-treat clothes with an insecticide like permethrin – This insecticide lasts for 3 – 4 weeks and will repel ticks. Tick Encounter breaks down how to use this repellent and explains any safety concerns.  
  • Check for ticks and take a shower – After you return, inspect yourself and your pet (if they were out with you) for ticks. Showering can potentially wash the tick away.  
  • Wash your clothes in hot water or toss them in the dryer – The heat will kill the ticks that may be lurking in your clothes.  

As we have learned, ticks live short lives, but they can be a significant threat to humans and animals.  It is important to note that the summer months are when tick activity is at its highest, and it’s important to be proactive.  If you want to learn more about Lyme disease, check out this blog post for more details.  In the meantime, stay covered and use your repellents to have a tick-free summer!

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