what do ticks eat

What Do Ticks Eat?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton

What is more enjoyable than a stroll in the park, a hike in the mountains, and enjoying some outdoor time? Not a lot for some of us, but one thing that can put that joy to rest quite quickly is finding your animal companion, or even yourself, carrying an unwanted passenger with you back home.

Ticks are dangerous for both animals and humans alike. But why are they so attracted to our furry friends, or us?

If you’ve ever asked “what do ticks eat?”, then we’ll dive a little bit deeper into that in this article. The short answer if you’re curious is blood, but it also depends on what lifecycle stage the tick is in.

So let’s dive a little bit deeper into it, and you’ll also learn the surprising truth of how long a tick can stay without food.

The Life Cycle Of A Tick

Ticks are pests that roam around during the summer months looking for hosts, and your dog or even you could be one of them.  

It is essential to take preventative measures and proactively check for ticks during the warmer months.

Egg

tick laying eggs

Female ticks typically lay their eggs in the spring after completing their two-year life span.  Their whole existence is about reproduction, and by feeding throughout the life stage, they’re gaining the strength they need to mate and do so.

Ticks are not known to lay their eggs on their host because they have to detach from the host fully. Instead, they can lay their eggs anywhere else, for example, in carpets, coat pockets, outdoor brushes, and other warm places.

Even though a tick is only about 2mm in size, an adult tick can lay thousands of eggs. Therefore, tick eggs are easier to spot than the tick itself.  The eggs are brown and red and appear to be translucent.  

If you find a batch of tick eggs, you can use salt as a natural product to begin drying them out.

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Larva

During summer, the eggs hatch into the larva.  The thousands of tiny larva are now ready and waiting for their first host to pass by.  A tick needs to feed on a different host’s blood during each life stage to proceed to the next phase.  

They look for smaller mammals like mice, raccoons, or even birds.  

When the larva is done feeding on the host and is full of blood, the larva falls to the ground and begins to transform to their next stage in life as nymphs.

Nymph

Tick larva becomes nymphs between fall and spring, but they are inactive when temperatures drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is, therefore, less likely to get bitten by a tick during the winter months.

Ticks will nest on a host feeding or sit dormant in leaves and not seek a host to feed on. However, during spring, the nymph searches for its next host.  They will crawl up tall grass and brush blades to reach their host.

Ticks don’t jump or fly. Instead, they will sit and wait patiently for a host to walk by, then latch on when they make contact.  When a nymph finds a host, it will typically hang on and feed on it for four to five days.

Adult

Once the nymph is saturated with blood, it will fall off its host and come to its adult life stage during the fall. Once again, the tick will look for its third and final host for feeding in the adult stage.

Ticks prefer to feed on the blood of three different hosts during their life cycle.

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How Long Can Ticks Go Without Food?

There are tick species that need to feed right away to survive, while others can live long periods without feeding.  As mentioned previously, ticks are a three-host species and attach to different hosts during their lifetime.

Each different tick species have a different survival rate depending on what stage of life they are in.

Blacklegged (Deer) Tick

When Blacklegged deer ticks are in their larva stage, they feed once from June through September.  If they do not feed during this time, they typically live less than a year.  As nymphs, they feed during the summer.  However, if they do not feed during their first season, some can survive through two more seasons without a meal.

American Dog Tick

The American Dog tick can live longer than the Blacklegged tick.  The larva can survive 540 days without food, while unfed nymphs can live for 584 days without being fed.  Unfed adult American Dog ticks can go two to three years without food.

Brown Dog Tick

Female brown dog ticks can lay from 1,000 to 3,000 tiny, dark brown eggs.  Once the eggs hatch, the larva can survive for eight months without food or water.  In their nymph stage, they can go three months without attaching to a host, while the adult brown dog tick can survive for up to 18 months without feeding.

Lone Star Tick

Female lone star ticks can lay between 3,000 and 5,000 eggs.  The larva can go without a host for up to 279 days.  The nymph can go up to 476 days without feeding, and the fully mature lone star tick can go without a blood meal for up to 430 days.

Ticks And Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and, rarely, Borrelia mayonii. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks.

Small mammals are the originating carriers of the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. It does not harm these hosts, but when ticks feed on these mammals, they contract the bacteria and become a transmitter.

When this bacteria is transferred to humans, it leads to Lyme disease. Ticks are the only known transmitters whose bite can lead to Lyme disease. It cannot be spread by mosquitoes, fleas, or other biting insects.

Ticks also carry the bacterium, viruses, and microscopic parasites that cause Powassan, Anaplasmosis, Colorado tick fever, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and others.

Final Thought

Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every step to survive. Ticks that require this many hosts can take up to 3 years to complete their whole life cycle, and most will die because they don’t find a host for their next feeding.

Remember to check your pets thoroughly when they come from outside to ensure your home and animal friends stay tick-free.

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