Ticks are parasitic arachnids that survive by feeding on the blood of a variety of animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Ticks like to hang out in wooded or brushy areas and attach themselves to animals and humans that brush against them. Various types of ticks are spread throughout North America. Ticks (and their nymphs) transmit a number of serious diseases and in some cases can also cause allergies and anemia.
What is a Nymph?
Insect pests complete their lifecycle through either simple or complex metamorphosis. Complex metamorphosis involves an insect changing from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa to adult.
Simple metamorphosis is when an insect hatches looking like a smaller version of its adult self and goes through a number of molts on its way to maturity.
Ticks go through simple metamorphosis. When they hatch, they are called 'larvae' but do not look like worms. They look like tiny ticks. They have six legs, are around the size of a poppy seed, and quickly seek to attach themselves to some sort of creature for their first blood meal. Once they are full, they detach and molt, becoming a nymph with eight legs. Nymphs look like ticks, only slightly smaller, and they can spread disease just like adult ticks.
If ticks are found inside your home, it is important to remove them carefully and dispose of them properly. If they are a repeated issue, it may be a good idea to contact a pest control professional.
Ticks are known to transmit a number of serious diseases including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia. Many tick treatments involve the application of pesticide that can cause harm to humans and pets if used improperly. If your property has had a repeated interior tick issue, take steps to reduce their presence around your home and consider contacting a professional pest control company to help with long-term tick control.
What Do Ticks Look Like?
Ticks are small, spider-like creatures that live in woods and fields and are most prevalent during the spring and summer but are active into fall. They do not fly and are most often found on animals, but can also attach themselves to humans.
Ticks are brown or black and their bodies are covered in tiny bumps. Their legs are long and thin, and they have a small head with a mouth designed to pierce skin so they can feed on blood. Adults and nymphs have eight legs, where their very tiny larvae are six-legged. Ticks are often no bigger than the head of a pin, but they become 'engorged' after blood meals, during which time they can be as big around as a pea.
If you think you've found a tick inside, proceed carefully and make sure you're not actually dealing with carpet beetles or bed bugs. If you find a tick attached to your body (or on your pet), consult with a medical care provider for instructions on removal and options for treatment.
Most people think of ticks as outdoor creatures, but there are several species that can make their way inside. Some of them are carriers of disease and others are not. These ticks include:
- The Deer Tick: Incredibly small and difficult to spot, this tick is the most notorious carrier of Lyme disease. Though, it is notable that the term "deer tick" is a bit outdated—deers are not the main carriers of this tick. It is, in fact, rodents.
- The American Dog Tick: Often brought inside on pets or clothing, this tick can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
- The Brown Dog Tick: A common household pest that's looking to stay long-term, this tick is not known to transmit disease but can cause anemia in pets if allowed to flourish indoors.
Ticks are most commonly brought inside on pets and outdoor clothing. If your dog or family members have been running through the woods or tall grass, or if you live in an area where ticks are a serious concern, check your pets (and humans!) after they come in from their outdoor adventures.
6 Ways to Get Rid of Ticks Naturally
Tick control is far more about prevention than eradication. If you live in an area where ticks are present, they will always be present. The concern is keeping them out of your home and away from your family and pets.
There are lots of old wives' tales about how to remove ticks or keep them from biting, but not all of these methods are backed by science. In fact, some of them (such as burning the tick using a hot match) can do more harm than good.
Use simple, common-sense methods when it comes to pest control. If a recommended treatment method seems dangerous or overly complicated, it's probably too good to be true.
Know How to Inspect for Ticks
According to the CDC, ticks need to be attached for 36-48 hours in order to cause damage. When you or your pets are coming in from outside, be sure to look everyone over carefully for ticks, especially during the spring and summer months. On your body, check areas like:
- In and around the hair and ears
- Between the legs
- Backs of knees
- Around the waist
- Inside the bellybutton
Don't forget to check your gear, too. Ticks can travel inside on coats, backpacks, and tents, so check those items over thoroughly as well.
Studies have shown that infected ticks do not transmit Lyme disease during the first 24 hours of feeding. It has also been discovered that showering within two hours of coming inside can help reduce the risk of Lyme disease and other tick-spread diseases as well as wash off ticks that have not had a chance to attach yet. Showering is a good chance to perform a full-body tick check, so don't skip showering after going outside!
Treat Your Animals for Ticks
Animals commonly bring ticks inside. Ticks like the brown dog tick are happy to settle in your house where they can feed freely on your pets and reproduce by the thousands. These situations can cause anemia in your pets.
Ticks can be incredibly small and difficult to spot on your pet initially. They burrow themselves into an animal's fur and attach themselves so they can feed discreetly. By the time you notice, the tick is likely engorged on a bloodmeal. Don't wait until you find an engorged tick! Treat your pets with a tick and flea medication and carefully check your pets over when they come inside.
Use a Tick Repellent
There are a variety of options when it comes to sprays and repellents for ticks, including over-the-counter products such as DEET and other homemade options.
The following essential oils have been shown to help deter ticks:
- Lemon oil
- Eucalyptus oil
Homemade tick repellents typically involve mixing one or more oils with water, vinegar and witch hazel in some combination, but do your research! Improperly used essential oils can still be a danger, so make sure you find a verifiable recipe and follow it closely.
Wear Proper Clothing
If you are planning to spend time outside in wooded areas where ticks could be present, make sure you're dressed appropriately. Also consider treating your clothing with a tick and insect repellent product before venturing out.
Wear long sleeves and pants made of durable fabric, keep your skin covered, wear close-toed shoes with tall socks and avoid walking through areas with heavy brush whenever possible.
Wear light clothing outside. Given ticks' dark coloring, this makes spotting ticks on the outside of your clothes much easier.
Use Your Dryer to Kill Ticks
When coming in from outdoors, put all items in the dryer on high before you wash them. Yes, you read that right: dry first, then wash and dry again. It may seem reasonable to wash the clothes first, but your washing machine may not get hot enough to adequately kill ticks, and you don't want to leave them behind in your washer.
Use the dryer. Ticks dry out very easily. Removing clothing and drying it at high heat for at least 10 minutes will dry out and kill ticks that are still on your clothes.
Address Conducive Conditions
In pest control, a conducive condition is any environmental factor that is perpetuating a pest control issue. These conditions include food sources, harborage areas, and other factors.
When dealing with ticks inside, there are a few conducive conditions to consider first:
- Food sources: Ticks feed on blood. Address their food sources by treating pets for ticks and inspecting pets and family members after outdoor time.
- Harborage areas: Ticks are present outside, but if you're trying to keep them away from your home, trim back brush and overgrowth around your house, especially if it's close to indoor structures.
Signs of Ticks in Your Home
Unfortunately, because of their size, it can be difficult to find ticks inside until they have had a blood meal or become an ongoing issue.
Ticks like to hide in the woods, brush and tall grass where they clump together or hang out alone and wait for an animal to unknowingly pick them up.
As much as you may want them to go away for good, that's not going to happen. Habit may tell you to run for the chemical sprays, but overuse of chemical treatments causes environmental and health risks and won't get rid of ticks for good.
If you live in an area where ticks are known to be present outside (or have been a recurring issue inside), it is absolutely essential to know how to inspect for ticks, and to do so on a regular basis.
What Causes Ticks?
Related to spiders and mites, ticks are parasitic arachnids that look for opportunities to feast on the blood of animals, including mammals, reptiles and birds. Their numbers have been increasing in recent years, which is concerning and means people need to be prepared to take steps to avoid them.
Ticks are found all over the world. They are most active in the spring and summer, but can be found in some places as late as October. They prefer to be outside but can enter the home in a number of ways. Some of these include:
- Hitching a ride on pets
- Hiding in clothing that has been worn outdoors
How to Keep Ticks Away
If you want to keep ticks out of your house, there are a few key things you need to do:
- Treat your pets with a high quality tick medication
- Use tick repellent products when outside
- Know where ticks may be hiding and avoid those areas
- Thoroughly and properly inspect your family members and pets before coming inside, especially if you're in the woods or there's dense brush around
- Properly launder clothing to avoid ticks, utilizing the dryer at a high heat to desiccate them (dry them out)
- Keep the yard close to your home well maintained and free of dense vegetation
It may seem like a lot of work, but these steps will help ensure that you and your loved ones (including pets) are safe from the potential health risks that come with a tick problem.
How long do ticks live?
Some ticks take up to three years to complete their full lifecycle. Depending on the tick, they can cause health issues throughout this time.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria spread by ticks. This disease causes flu like symptoms and rashes, and can spread to the heart, nervous system and joints.
What ticks cause Lyme disease?
Ixodes ticks, also called black-legged ticks and deer ticks, carry Lyme disease. These ticks can be found throughout parts North America.
Why are tick populations going up?
Tick populations are increasing globally due to warmer temperatures, habitat loss, and international animal trade.