Life Cycle of a Tick

The Life Cycle of a Tick is completely dependant on feeding from a warm blooded host. Without food, the ticks will not develop and eventually die. When controlling areas that are troubled with ticks, it is often a good idea to target potential hosts as well as the ticks themselves. There are generally four stages to a tick’s life cycle and these are described below in more detail (however some types of tick have further instars, which are periods of growth between molts). The Life Cycle of a Tick can also be completed on one host (Rhipicephalus annulatus is an example of this), two hosts or three hosts. Below we use a three host example which would be completed by the majority of Ixodids (hard ticks of the family, Ixodidae) during their life cycle.

Life cycle stage 1: Egg, Life cycle stage 2: Larvae, Life cycle stage 3: Nymph, Life cycle stage 4: Adult

Ticks Life Cycle - Once the female adult has fed on a host and mated with a male, she will drop off the host and lay eggs in a protected habitat. Female ticks can lay thousands of eggs during their life and the eggs are able to carry diseases of which the female adult may be a vector. The eggs are tiny and difficult to see but are laid in clusters and look like multiple small brownish red balls. Eggs are usually laid in spring at the beginning of tick season.

The tick diagram - Life cycle details

Eggs develop and hatch into larvae when conditions are right (appropriate temperature and moisture). The larvae resemble adult ticks; however they only initially emerge with six legs rather than eight. The shape of their body and head is the same, but smaller. To identify tick larvae, it is easier to see the detail under a microscope. The larvae do not have wings and therefore crawl to an area where they are able to wait and fall on a host to feed. Larvae can feed on small rodents (such as mice, rats, squirrels, foxes, badgers), birds (such as blackbirds, magpies, crows) and other larger animals (such as cattle, dogs, cats) in addition to unlucky humans. They can be found in long tall grass and on other vegetation where potential hosts may pass. Once the larvae have successfully fed on a host (a blood meal), they will drop to the floor, molt (shed their skin) and develop into Nymphs (which can take place in a number of weeks).

Life Cycle of Tick

Nymphs look like small ticks - they have the same shaped bodies, eight legs, are wingless and also need to feed on the blood of a host before they can develop into an adult. Some species of tick must feed and molt multiple times before becoming an adult. The nymphs also search for hosts like the larvae and can target similar animals - although they would usually look for a larger host such as a dog, cat, deer, fox, cattle or human. Once they have completed their intake of blood, the nymph will fall off and again molt, emerging as an adult.

Life Cycle of a Tick

Adult ticks also need to feed and therefore the process of finding an appropriate host is repeated. Due to the wide range of hosts available, infections and diseases can be wide spread if the tick is infectious. Adult ticks cannot mate and reproduce without a blood meal and are recorded as mating on a host, before the female falls to the floor and goes to lay its eggs for the lifecycle to recur. Male adults will usually die after mating once and the females will die soon after laying the eggs. The whole lifecycle can be as quick as a couple of months to a couple of years.

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