When we go on a hiking trip or indulge in divine natural environments, we feel an onrush of fine mood, and danger is the last thing that comes to our mind. However, there is one must-think-about bad thing – ticks. This is a kind of danger, from which there is no hundred-percent reliable barrier: the little blood suckers wait in the grass to cling to you and suck your blood!
It is not the blood sucking that is the worst thing about it. What’s really bad is that ticks may transmit some debilitating and even deadly diseases. Lyme disease is one such peril, mostly because its symptoms do not appear immediately or, if they do, they resemble a mild case of cold or flu. Ticks are as dangerous for us as they are for our four-legged little friends.
What are they?
Ticks belong to the Arachnida class. Their life cycle goes in the following order: larvae hatch from eggs, then they enter the nymph stage, molt one or several times, and finally reach adulthood. Like all Arachnida, adult ticks have four pairs of legs.
How do They Hunt?
They do not build cobwebs. To locate and attack their prey, they use an ‘advanced’ strategy, which is known as questing. They cannot fly, run, or hop. Instead, they climb up shrubs and grass and reach their highest and outermost points of grass blades and leaves. They use their third and fourth pairs of legs to cling firmly to grass and/or leaves, while they stretch out their first and second pairs in such a way as to be able to latch on to prey every moment. Surprisingly enough, they are very good at mapping the environment and locating paths, which potential hosts are most likely to follow. Finally, they have a phenomenal patience, as they can spend a daytime or longer stalking prey.
Because finding blood is a life-and-death issue for ticks, they have well-developed systems and organs, which help them detect the movement of a potential victim. These are so called Haller’s Organs, which detect carbon dioxide and the slightest changes in moisture and temperature levels. These organs maintain ticks’ instinct that helps them locate any living creature (a human, dog, deer, etc.) wondering in the proximity of the stalking position.
How do They Bite?
Not in frequently, it is hours after a bite that we realize we have fallen prey to a little creepy bandit. Wonder why? When piercing through the host’s skin, they inject saliva into the bloodstream. The saliva contains neurotoxins, which create an anesthetic effect, so the victim does not feel and remains unaware of what is happening. As the tick inserts its feeding tube into the skin, it also injects a glue-like substance (cementum), which attaches it to the skin. This is why it takes a bit of skill to pull out one. Ticks can spend several days feeding on the host’s blood.
Getting through Hard Times
When there is no food available, ticks enter a state of stasis. Some types of ticks can stay without food for 200-500 days. This ability also helps them survive the harsh winter period. Usually, they wake up from hibernation in spring and, feeling ravenous, get back to their quest for food. This is the reason why they are most dangerous in spring.
Ticks have a very slow breathing – 5-10 breaths per hour. This helps them survive a long stay in water. This is why a flush down the drain and a spin in a washing machine are more like a roller-coaster ride for them.
Is There a Protection?
There is no vaccine that could prevent a tick attack. The only thing you can do is try to prevent an attack by wearing protective clothes and using repellents.