Mark Spare a Kansas Native, in his final year of Veterinary School and Kansas State University and will be writing a few columns to benefit our readers and their pets.
Like clock-work, every year we are greeted by many million eight-legged creatures as we complete our daily tasks around the house, in the fields, and in the pastures of Kansas. Some readers may immediately think of spiders, but the creature I am referring to is the tick. Growing up in southwest Kansas, I didn’t have much experience with these (parasites), but during the time that my family has spent at school in Manhattan, I have become very familiar with this very interesting member of our environment. The thing about studying ticks is that they may be small, but once you start, they tend to suck you in!
Kansas is home to many different types of ticks including the American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), the Brown Dog tick (Rhipecephalus sanguineus), the Gulf coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum), and several others. Obviously because of their names, you can tell that ticks are quite picky about their targets for blood meals…if only it were that easy; then we could simply only have yellow labs in the areas where the Brown dog tick is found and keep Irish wolfhounds in areas where the American dog tick is found; think of the money we would save on pet tick prevention.
In actuality, each species of ticks of Kansas have their own nuances regarding their blood meal targets, the pathogens they carry, their environment, and their behavior. First importance however is the basics.
Ticks are obligate blood feeders, meaning they cannot survive without obtaining a blood meal. However, because of their unique methods of survival, some species of ticks may be able to survive up to eighteen months without a blood meal. To get their meals, ticks must hitch a ride on another organism, these can include, snakes, turtles, birds, small mammals, cows, horses, dogs, cats, and people. Ticks cannot run, fly, or jump, so they have instead mastered the art of the ambush in an act referred to as questing. When a tick “quests,” he or she crawls to the top of a blade of grass or the edge of a leaf on a tree or bush, holds on and extends their front two legs waving them around until they hook their unsuspecting target. The front legs are home to the tick’s sensory Howler’s organs, they are able to hone into vibrations, and carbon dioxide emitted by their target.
Once attached, they crawl to a secure spot on the host where they can burrow into the skin and begin to feed. Ticks feed by exchanging copious amounts of saliva with the blood of their host. Components of the saliva help maintain attachment and facilitate digestion; it is this exchange that ultimately allows for the tick to pass infections to their host. These infections may be bacterial or viral, and all are unique in the time it takes for transmission to occur. These transmission times can be found on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, but generally a tick must be attached for 24 hours or more to transmit an infective dose of a disease. For this reason, the best defense is to remember to check for ticks every time you return from the outside and remove ticks immediately. Give special considerations to children that may not be thorough at checking themselves and indoor-outdoor pets as they may bring ticks inside which can locate hosts inside the home. Fine-point tweezers and commercial tick keys are good for removal, but chemical methods such as nail polish remover, essential oils, or burning ticks should be avoided.
By Mark Spare