Ticks are small and reddish-brown in color. Adult ticks have four pairs of legs and no antennae. Ticks are grouped into two families- “hard ticks” which have a hard, smooth skin and an apparent head, and “soft ticks” which have a tough, leathery, pitted skin and no recognizable head. Both groups are parasites of warm-blooded animals and attck humans and animals.
Hard ticks usually mate on the host animal, then drops to the ground and deposits 3,000-6,000 eggs that hatch into larvae. They then climb vegetation and attach to a host, After engorging itself on blood, it drops to the ground, sheds its skin and emerge as nymphs. Nymphs repeat this process and become adults. Some species feed as larvae, nymphs, and adults on only one host during the life cycle. While ticks need a blood meal at each stage after hatching, some species can survive years without feeding. When feeding, ticks make a small hole in the skin, attach themselves with a modification of one of the mouthparts which has teeth that curve backwards, and insert barbed piercing mouthparts to remove blood. The presence of ticks is annoying to dogs and humans. Heavy continuous infestations on dogs cause irritation and loss of vitality. Pulling ticks off the host may leave a running wound that may become infected because of their type of attachment.
American dog tick adults and many other species can be found along roads, paths, and trails, on grass, and on other low vegetation in a "waiting position." As an animal passes by the tick will grasp it firmly and soon start feeding on its host. The males remain on the host for an indefinite period of time alternately feeding and mating. The females feed, mate, become engorged, and then drop off to lay their eggs.
Of the ticks found in Florida, the brown dog tick and the American dog tick are the most troublesome. The brown dog tick rarely bites humans, but infestations are frequently found on dogs and in the home. The American dog tick attacks a wide variety of hosts, including humans, but rarely will infest homes.
The American dog tick may carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and other diseases from animals to people. Dogs are not affected by these diseases, but people have become infected by picking ticks from dogs. People living in areas where these wood ticks occur should inspect themselves several times a day. Early removal is important since disease organisms are not transferred until the tick has fed for several hours. The American dog tick is also known to cause paralysis in dogs and children where ticks attach at the base of the skull or along the spinal column. A toxic secretion produced by the feeding tick can cause paralysis. When the tick is removed, recovery is rapid, usually within 8 hours. Sensitized animals may become paralyzed by tick attachment anywhere on the body. Ticks are also capable of transmitting Lyme disease, but few cases have been reported in Florida. In cases of tick bites where Lyme disease is suspected, a physician should be contacted so that appropriate blood tests can be done for the patient. Most transmission occurs in the Northeast states, and the primary vector is the deer tick. The deer tick is not prevalent in Florida, but species that are close relatives and are capable of transmitting Lyme disease are common throughout the state. The American dog tick and the brown dog tick are not considered important vectors of Lyme disease. The brown dog tick is not a vector of human disease, but it is capable of transmitting canine piroplasmosis among dogs.
Ticks should be removed from pets and humans as soon as they are noticed. Ticks should be removed carefully and slowly. If the attached tick is broken, the mouthparts left in the skin may transmit disease or cause secondary infection. Ticks should be grasped with tweezers at the point where their mouthparts enter the skin and pulled straight out with firm pressure. A small amount of flesh should be seen attached to the mouthparts after the tick is removed. Removal may be slightly painful but should be done immediately.
People entering tick-infested areas should keep clothing buttoned, shirts inside pants, and pants tucked inside boots. Do not sit on the ground or on logs in bushy areas. Keep brush cleared or burned along frequently traveled areas. Repellents will protect exposed skin or clothing. However, ticks have been known to crawl over treated skin to untreated parts of the body.