Ticks hatch from
eggs into six-legged larvae that locate hosts and feed before
dropping off the host and molting into eight-legged nymphs.
Nymphs locate hosts, feed and drop off to molt into eight-legged
adults. Adults also locate hosts on which to feed. Males may
stay on the host, mating with females coming there to feed.
Females engorge on blood to several times their original size,
drop off the host and lay hundreds of eggs. With each tick
having to find three hosts in its lifetime, many ticks starve
before reproducing, although ticks can survive for long periods
American dog ticks, commonly known as wood
ticks, are the most common in Illinois. They feed as larvae and
nymphs on small mammals, only attacking humans when the ticks
reach the adult stage. Adults are reddish-brown and
three-sixteenths-inch long. Females have a silver shield behind
the head; males have silver wiggly lines down the back. These
ticks transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a virus found here
but most common in North Carolina and nearby areas. In Illinois,
they also carry ehrlichiosis, producing symptoms similar to Lyme
Lone star ticks (pictured) feed on humans and other mammals as larvae,
nymphs and adults. Larvae and nymphs are commonly called seed
ticks because of their size. Walking through an area of newly
hatched larvae may result in hundreds attacking your legs.
Adults are about one-eighth inch in diameter, roundish and
brown; females have a white spot in the middle of the back.
Blacklegged ticks, including the deer tick subspecies, also
feed on people as larvae, nymphs and adults. Larvae are tiny,
about the size of the period at the end of a sentence; nymphs
are pinhead-sized. Both tend to migrate up the legs and feed in
the groin area. Adult blacklegged ticks are teardrop-shaped,
reddish brown and about one-eighth-inch long. The deer tick
subspecies is found mainly in the northern half of the United
States. Deer tick larvae feed on white-footed mice, picking up
the Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to people by the
nymphs and adult ticks.
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Ticks are numerous in areas of tall grass, where humidity is high
and hosts common. Mowing greatly reduces tick numbers. When walking
or working in areas of tall grass or other areas with ticks, apply a
repellent containing about 30 percent DEET, such as Off or Cutter,
to the lower legs and pants legs. If ticks are numerous in mowed
areas, spraying carbaryl, permethrin or bifenthrin should help give
If a tick is attached, grasp the head with tweezers where the
mouthparts enter the skin, pulling slowly and consistently. The tick
will release its mouthparts and come loose. Do not handle the tick.
Good luck trying to smash a tick. It's about like trying to flatten
a dime with a rubber mallet. Other methods such as heat and nail
polish commonly kill the tick, resulting in locked mouthparts that
remain in the wound to cause infection. A tick typically feeds for
24 hours before releasing disease organisms, so remove ticks
promptly when you find them.
Also pay particular attention to pets in wooded areas or areas
with tall grass. Use preventive products when possible. Carbaryl
dust may be used on pets and their sleeping areas to help control
ticks and fleas.
For people, mosquito and tick repellents containing DEET can be
used on clothing and body parts. Permethrin can be used on clothing
only and not sprayed on the body. Be particularly careful of
permethrin around cats and dogs, as it can be lethal.
University of Illinois Extension, Logan County]