VIDEO: How A Tick Digs Its Hooks Into You

WATCH: How A Tick Digs Its Hooks Into You

Spring is here. Unfortunately for hikers and picnickers enjoying the warmer weather, the new season is prime time for ticks, which can transmit bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

How they latch on — and stay on — is a feat of engineering that scientists have been piecing together. Once you know how a tick’s mouth works, you understand why it’s impossible to simply flick a tick.

A tick’s mouth is covered in hooks that help it dig into the skin and stay attached for several days. This young tick’s mouth was photographed under the microscope at San Francisco State University. Annette Chan/KQED hide caption

The key to their success is a menacing mouth covered in hooks that they use to get under the surface of our skin and attach themselves for several days while they fatten up on our blood.

«Ticks have a lovely, evolved mouth part for doing exactly what they need to do, which is extended feeding,» said Kerry Padgett, supervising public health biologist at the California Department of Public Health in Richmond. «They’re not like a mosquito that can just put their mouth parts in and out nicely, like a hypodermic needle.»

Instead, a tick digs in using two sets of hooks. Each set looks like a hand with three hooked fingers. The hooks dig in and wriggle into the skin. Then these «hands» bend in unison to perform approximately half-a-dozen breaststrokes that pull skin out of the way so the tick can push in a long stubby mouth part called the hypostome.

«It’s almost like swimming into the skin,» says Dania Richter, a biologist at the Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, who has studied the mechanism closely. «By bending the hooks it’s engaging the skin. It’s pulling the skin when it retracts.»

A tick nymph, or young tick, has dug its mouth into a human arm. Left to its own devices, this western blacklegged tick nymph will stay attached for three to four days, during which time it will drink enough blood to later molt and grow into an adult. Josh Cassidy/KQED hide caption

A tick nymph, or young tick, has dug its mouth into a human arm. Left to its own devices, this western blacklegged tick nymph will stay attached for three to four days, during which time it will drink enough blood to later molt and grow into an adult.

The bottom of the hypostome is also covered in rows of hooks that give it the look of a chainsaw. Those hooks act like mini-harpoons, anchoring the tick to us for the long haul.

«They’re teeth that are backward facing, similar to one of those gates you would drive over but you’re not allowed to back up or else you’d puncture your tires,» says Padgett.

Compounds in ticks’ saliva help blood pool under the surface of our skin. Ticks sip it, like drinking from a straw.

Ticks need to stay firmly attached because they’re going in for a meal that can last three to 10 days, depending on whether they’re young ticks or adult females. Compare that to a speedy mosquito, which digs into human skin, sucks blood and leaves, all within seconds.

For ticks, the stakes are high because instead of taking small meals they need to gorge themselves each time. A western blacklegged tick, the species that transmits Lyme bacteria to humans along the Pacific coast, lives three years. But in that time it only eats three huge meals, each one necessary for it to grow to its next life stage. It needs enough blood to grow from larva to nymph, nymph to adult and then for females to lay their eggs.

An adult female tick drinks so much blood during its one meal that its weight increases 200 times, said Richter.

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So what’s the best way to get rid of a tick?

The hooks that make these infrequent but long, banquets possible are what make it hard to pull a tick out. But it’s not as hard as you might think. Padgett recommends grabbing the tick close to the skin using a pair of fine tweezers and simply pulling straight up.

«No twisting or jerking,» she says. «Use a smooth motion pulling up.»

Credit: Josh Cassidy/KQED

Padgett warned against other strategies.

«Don’t use Vaseline or try to burn the tick or use a cotton swab soaked in soft soap or any of these other techniques that might take a little longer or might not work,» she says. «You really want to remove the tick as soon as possible.»

Time is of the essence. If an infected tick bites humans, it takes at least 24 hours before Lyme bacteria start swimming out in the saliva the tick drips into its host.

So don’t worry if the tick’s mouth parts — the ones covered in those tenacious hooks — stay behind when you pull.

«The mouth parts are not going to transmit disease to people,» says Padgett.

Once the tick’s body is no longer attached, it can’t transmit bacteria. And if the mouth stayed behind in your skin, it will eventually work its way out, sort of like a splinter does, she says.

In California, adult ticks carry Lyme bacteria less often than nymphs because of a biological quirk in the region. Ticks that carry Lyme bacteria and feed on the western fence lizard lose their infection in the process. The lizard’s blood actually clears the infection, said Andrea Swei, who studies ticks and disease transmission at San Francisco State University.

Ticks most commonly feed on the lizards when they’re larvae and nymphs. If a nymph was infected before it fed on a lizard, it will no longer be infected after it grows into an adult.

Experts say a key way to avoid tick bites is to be prepared. Wear long pants and put on repellent next time you’re planning a hike or picnic in an area where ticks and their impressive hooks may be lurking.

What Does a Tick Look Like: Tick Species and the Threats they Pose

A Guide to Identifying and Preventing Various Tick Species

When the weather gets warmer, humans and their pets are not the only ones eager to get outside after a long winter – ticks are out in full force and can pose a significant health risk to humans and pets alike, spreading diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Here is everything you need to know about what different kinds of ticks look like , how to prevent tick bites and the dangers associated with these potentially dangerous pests.

Types of Ticks

General Info: The blacklegged (deer) tick is named for its notorious dark legs and is sometimes referred to as a deer tick because it prefers to host on the white-tailed deer. Found throughout the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, southeastern and northcentral United States, blacklegged ticks are known vectors of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, human babesiosis, Powassan encephalitis, and more.

What D o Blacklegged (Deer) Ticks Look Like : Blacklegged ticks are a flat, broad oval shape and are typically orange-brown in color with darker legs. They have 6 legs when they hatch, but develop 8 legs as adults categorizing them as arachnids and are 1/8” long on average.

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Habits: Blacklegged ticks normally hide in grass and shrubs and wait for a passing host to latch on to. They can also be found in the den or nests of common hosts, such as skunks, raccoons, opossums, and rodents. These ticks prefer the nesting areas of the white-footed mouse because they are often in well-sheltered places such as underground, in tree stumps, old bird nests and woodpiles.

Threats: Blacklegged ticks are vectors of anaplasmosis, Lyme disease and human babesiosis. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a bull’s eye-shaped skin rash around the bite sight. If untreated, Lyme disease can affect the joints, heart and nervous system. Blacklegged ticks’ favorite feeding area on humans is at the back of the neck, making detection difficult if you have long hair. These ticks will typically crawl for up to 4 hours before they attach and have to then be attached for 6-8 hours before disease transmission occurs, so early detection and tick removal is key.

General Info: The American Dog Tick is named after its host of choice – the dog. These ticks are only found throughout North America and are a member of the hard tick family. American dog ticks are known vectors of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and exposure to these ticks is most common during spring and early summer.

What Do American Dog Ticks Look Like : American dog ticks are flat and oval in shape, and usually brown with whitish-gray markings. Similar to the blacklegged tick, these ticks have 6 legs as larvae but have 8 legs when they are adults. They range anywhere from 5 mm to 15 mm in size depending on whether or not they are engorged.

Habits: American dog ticks prefer grassy areas with low vegetation where larger animals commonly pass by and thrive in areas that are also accessible to humans. When these ticks latch on to dogs, they are brought into the home and can potentially be transferred to humans. American dog ticks are extremely resilient and are able to survive for 2-3 years without feeding.

Threats: American dog ticks are carriers of the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a serious tick-borne illness with a mortality rate of over 20 percent if not treated early. Symptoms include high fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, and sometimes a rash spread across the extremities 2-4 days after the fever begins. These ticks are also known vectors of tularemia, a disease transmitted from rabbits, mice, squirrels and other small animals. Symptoms include an ulcer at the bite site, fever, chills and tender lymph nodes.

General Info: Similar to the American dog tick, the brown dog tick is named for its preferred host. It is also named for its color. It is not common, but brown dog ticks will bite humans in the absence of a canine host.

What Do Brown Dog Ticks Look Like : As told by their name, brown dog ticks are typically brown in color, but can become a gray and blue color when engorged. They are anywhere from 1/8” to 1/2” long and are oval-shaped and flat. Brown dog ticks, like the American dog tick, also have 6 legs as larvae and 8 as adults.

Habits: Brown dog ticks are unique from the other species of ticks because they are the only kind that can complete their entire life cycle indoors, as they survive best in warm, dry conditions. They prefer to host on dogs and usually attach to dogs’ ears or between the toes.

Threats: Brown dogs ticks can be vectors of disease for dogs, transmitting tick-borne diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine ehrlichiosis and canine Babesia.

General Info: Lone star ticks are named for their identifiable characteristic of a single spot located on the female’s back. Found mainly in the eastern and southeastern U.S., these ticks target humans more than any of the other tick species.

What Do Lone Star Ticks Look Like : Lone star ticks are reddish brown and become dark gray once engorged. Similar to the other species of ticks, lone star tick larvae have 6 legs, while adults have 8. Female lone star ticks are typically about 1/8” long when unengorged but can grow to up to 7/16” when engorged. Male ticks are usually slightly smaller.

Habits: Lone star ticks are three-host ticks, meaning they attach to a different host during each stage of their lifespan: larvae, nymph and adult. They attach to their host by crawling up the tips of low-growing vegetation, such as grass, and wait for the host to pass by and brush against the vegetation. As nymphs and adults, lone star ticks will also crawl on the ground to find the host and attach. These ticks are most often found in shaded areas, as they cannot survive for long in the sun. Larvae prefer small animals, including rabbits, skunks, raccoons, cats and birds, while nymphs typically target a mix of small and large animals. Adult lone star tick hosts are larger animals, such as fox, dogs, cats, deer, turkey, cattle and humans – who are fed on by all three stages of lone star ticks.

Threats: Lone star ticks are known vectors of many diseases, including tularemia, Heartland virus, Bourbon virus and Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). As with all ticks, early detection and removal is crucial, but lone star ticks have long mouthparts that can make removal especially difficult, as their mouthparts oftentimes break off while being extracted, resulting in further infection in the host.

General Info: The Rocky Mountain wood tick is named after the habitat it is most commonly found – throughout the wooded areas of the Rocky Mountain states. They are also commonly referred to as wood ticks.

What Do Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks Look Like : Rocky Mountain wood ticks are oval and flat in shape and are usually brown but become gray when they are engorged. They can range from 1/8” to 5/8” in length. As is customary with the other tick species, Rocky Mountain wood ticks have 6 legs as larvae and 8 as adults.

Habits: Similar to the lone star tick, Rocky Mountain wood ticks are a three-host tick, with each stage requiring a new host. These ticks are at their highest threat level from mid-March to mid-July. Larvae and nymphs typically feed on rodents, like squirrels, chipmunks and voles, while adults feed on larger animals, including sheep, deer and humans. Rocky Mountain wood ticks are typically found in wooded areas, open grasslands and around trails where they can easily attach to a host.

Threats: The biggest threat posed by the Rocky Mountain wood tick is Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), an infectious disease that can turn deadly if not treated in a timely manner. The main symptom of RMSF is a full body rash 2-5 days after the bite.

Tick Prevention

Make sure to follow these prevention tips to reduce the risk of tick bites:

  • Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and closed-toe shoes when outdoors.
  • Wear light colored clothing so that ticks are easier to spot.
  • Wear repellent containing at least 20 percent DEET.
  • Keep your yard tick-free by removing weeds and cutting grass low.
  • Inspect yourself, your family and pets for ticks after spending time outdoors.
  • When hiking, stay in the center of trails and away from vegetation.
  • If you find a tick on yourself or a family member, remove it with tweezers using a slow, steady pull so as not to break off the mouthparts and leave them in the skin. Then, wash your hands and the bite site thoroughly with soap and water. Ticks should be flushed down a toilet or wrapped tightly in tissue before disposing in a closed receptacle.
  • Be on the lookout for signs of tick bites, such as a telltale red bull’s eye rash around a bite. If you suspect a tick has bitten you, seek medical attention.
  • Learn the symptoms of Lyme disease and consult with your doctor immediately if you are concerned or experiencing symptoms.
  • If you find a tick in your home or are experiencing a tick problem on your property, contact a licensed pest control professional who can recommend a course of action.
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Can Pests Transmit Coronavirus?

Now that winter has passed, it’s important to note that coronavirus is not spread by vector pests.

Deer Tick Identification Removal, Bite, What does a Deer Tick Look Like

Deer Tick Identification

Deer Tick Identification…is important if you want to know whether your bite or bites are from this specific variety as they can carry lyme disease.

We are often asked what does a deer tick look like, so we have provided a photo (above) and pictures of this nasty littleparasite and also a guide to the home removal and the best way to remove ticks from dogs…

Deer Tick Identification – Made Easy!

  • The best way to identify adeer tick is to look at it’s size, shape and color.
  • During each stage intheir life cycle they have a black head and just behind their head theyhave a black dorsal shield.

There are other characteristics which make identification easier butthis would need to be done under a microscope….for example…

  • Their anal openinglooks very similar to a belly button and is on the underside of theparasite
  • The difference with adeer tick is that their anal opening is nearerthe lower edge of the abdomen and sits in a ridge that is shaped like ahorseshoe.
  • Common typesof ticks have ridges on thebottom edge of the abdomen known as festoons – deer ticks do nothave festoons.

Deer Tick Identification

Tick Life cycle

Thetick life cycle goes through three developmental stages…

Follow the advice and pictures that we have provided below on each developmental stage so that your are more able to identify this nasty little parasite, and hopefully avoid a bite.

Deer Tick Eggs

The life cycleof this nasty little parasite starts with the female laying a clutch ofeggs, like the ones in the picture above. These eggs will then hatchinto larva.

Deer Tick Larva

  • Did you know that the larva (like the photo above) hatch from their eggs from the months of May through until September.
  • The Larva does notactually carry Lyme disease and will not contract it or other diseasesuntil after it has attached itself to it’s host
  • Lava tend to fee onsmall mammals like mice. If the Mouse carries the Lyme disease bacteriathis will then be passed on to the larva.
  • After the larva has fed on it’s host, it will then molt into nymphs and will the lay dormant until spring of the following year.

Deer Tick Nymph

  • The following springor summer the nymph will take it’s second feed on it’s chosen host.
  • If the nymph was notinfected with a disease like lyme disease at the larva stage it can nowbecome infected if it’s second host is carrying the disease.
  • The nymph is very small and in your hand or on your dog it will look like a freckle or a speck of dirt.

Deer Tick Adult

  • In the second year’sfall the adult will emerge, once the nymph has molted.
  • The female adult tickwill feed on it’s host, mate and even lay it’s eggs on it’s host.
  • The female will feastover the course of several days and their body will get bigger as theygorge.
  • If the female isinfected it can transmit Lyme disease and other diseasesduring feeding
  • Although males dobecome attached to mammals etc they do not feed on blood so they do nottransmit diseases like Lyme disease, babesisosis or human anaplasmosis.
  • Frost does not killdeer ticks.

Deer Tick Identification

Home Deer Tick Removal

  • Remember that deerticks do actually prefer to attach themselves to deer as it’s primaryhost.
  • It is very importantthat when you remove the parasite from it’s host, that you do it verycarefully as if you do it ineffectively it may raise the risk ofinfection.
  • Use a pair of tweezersand hold the parasite as close to the skin as possible and very gentlyremove the tick.
  • Do not hold theparasite by it’s abdomen otherwise it may burst and release more veryunattractive and possibly dangerous fluids.
  • Do not use alcoholbefore you start to remove the parasite as this may make the parasitestart to regurgitate its last feed and this can cause more risks ofinfection.
  • Make sure that the mouth parts of the parasite are completely removed otherwise if they are left inthey may cause infection.

Ifyou would like more information on the best way to remove the parasite,check out our section on removingticks from dogs.
We hope this page has made deer tick identification easier for you and your family.


Knowing the different stages of the mosquito’s life will help you prevent mosquitoes around your home and also help you choose the right pesticides for your needs, if you decide to use them. All mosquito species go through four distinct stages during their life cycle:

  • Egg — hatches when exposed to water.
  • Larva — (plural: larvae) «wriggler» lives in water; molts several times; most species surface to breathe air.
  • Pupa — (plural: pupae) «tumbler» does not feed; stage just before emerging as adult.
  • Adult — flies short time after emerging and after its body parts have hardened.

The first three stages occur in water, but the adult is an active flying insect. Only the female mosquito bites and feeds on the blood of humans or other animals.

  • After she obtains a blood meal, the female mosquito lays the eggs directly on or near water, soil and at the base of some plants in places that may fill with water. The eggs can survive dry conditions for a few months.
  • The eggs hatch in water and a mosquito larva or «wriggler» emerges. The length of time to hatch depends on water temperature, food and type of mosquito.
  • The larva lives in the water, feeds and develops into the third stage of the life cycle called, a pupa or «tumbler.» The pupa also lives in the water but no longer feeds.
  • Finally, the mosquito emerges from the pupal case after two days to a week in the pupal stage.
  • The life cycle typically takes up two weeks, but depending on conditions, it can range from 4 days to as long as a month.

The adult mosquito emerges onto the water’s surface and flies away, ready to begin its lifecycle.

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Flea Larvae

Description, Habits and Controlling Flea Larva

The second stage or cycle of flea development is the worm-like larvae. Fleas go through what is called a complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, adult.
The female adult flea lays numerous eggs; larvae emerge from the eggs and go through a series of instars before pupating. Inside of the pupae (cocoon) the immature insect is transformed into an adult flea. When transformation is complete, surrounding conditions are right and nature signals that a host might be nearby, the completely formed adult flea will emerge from the pupal casing — ready to jump, feed, mate and continue the cycle. As a group, the egg, larva and pupa are known as the immature stages of the flea.
As you become more familiar with this immature stage of the insect (as well as other stages) you will have more information needed to effectively eliminate fleas from your home and keep them from re-infesting the area. Flea prevention is cheaper and far less time consuming than ridding your home of thousands of hungry fleas.

Larvae hatch from their eggs in as little time as 2 days and up to 14 days from the time they are laid by the adult female. Temperature and humidity play major roles in this timing. Temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 70% or higher gives optimum conditions for the emergence of the first stage or instar of larvae. Both eggs and larvae have very little protection from drying out and have better survival rates in higher humidity levels. They also avoid light, preferring areas such as beneath bedding and furniture as well as behind baseboards inside the home; shaded areas of the lawn are more likely to far more larvae than the sunny areas of the lawn. (Flea larvae have no eyes but do respond to heat and light; they are easily desiccated, as are flea eggs.) This is important information when understanding, preventing flea larvae infestations or controlling flea populations. Knowing where they usually prefer to hide or feed helps in sanitation procedures as well as which control products to use in most likely areas.

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Desiccants such as Drione Dust and Flea Stoppers take advantage of the weaknesses of flea eggs and flea larvae. These products easily dry out and kill soft, moist eggs and larvae. There are no baits used to kill adult fleas but application of Flea Stoppers to carpets does, in a sense, bait and kill their larvae. Fecal matter (larva food) is coated with Flea Stoppers which in turn kills the larvae by ingestion. Simply put, Flea Stoppers destroys flea eggs by drying them out; the material has two modes of action on larvae: it dries them out and is also ingested as they feed. Boric acid products (including borate carpet treatments) have two modes of killing: desiccation and stomach poison. Yet, when used properly, boric acid granules labeled for carpet applications are actually safer than common table salt to mammals!

The larvae break free from their egg shell with a little help from a small egg tooth located on the head of the small worm. Newly hatched flea larvae are usually about 1/4 inch long. This is the first instar or stage of the larval development. Flea larvae go through three such instars between hatching and pupating. Each instar is a little larger than its preceding instar. Depending on availability of food and optimum combination of heat and humidity, flea larvae can take from as little as 6 days and up to 2 weeks or more from egg emergence to the more dormant pupae stage of the life cycle.
As this worm-like stage develops it will molt, leaving behind casings that resemble the larvae. These casings are found in the vicinity of the larvae since the immature stages of the flea are not nearly as mobile as their adult counterparts. Both larvae and their empty casings (castings) are usually found close to areas where flea hosts rest or frequent and are often found in dirty pet bedding materials. They will also crawl under nearby beds, furniture and behind baseboards as they search for debris and food and follow their instinct to avoid light.
Flea larvae have no legs but do have a single row of hair-like bristles around each segment of their body. These bristles aid in maneuvering, as do the anal hairs. There are a total of 13 body segments — 3 thoracic and 10 abdominal sections.
Larvae have no eyes but they can still locate the adult fecal matter (dried blood from the host animal) which flea larvae feed on for survival. Larvae will feed on other types of organic debris but have best survival rate when they feed primarily on dried blood. There are species of fleas whose larvae can feed on certain dead animals for blood meals (instead of droppings of their adult counterpart) but this is a rare occurrence that is not seen with cat fleas. The blood meal of the cat flea larval stage is derived solely from adult flea droppings which are made up entirely of undigested blood.
Coloration of newly hatched larvae is usually a creamy white. This color changes as the larvae feed, changing to darker shades of yellow to brown.
Adult fleas, flea larvae and developed fleas that have not emerged from their pupal casings all respond to vibrations. Vibrations (in combination with movement, carbon dioxide, heat and humidity) will help developed fleas to emerge from their pupal casing and adult fleas jump to find a warm blooded host. The movement of dogs, cats, squirrels (and other hosts) causes flea eggs and adult flea fecal material to fall in various areas close to the original host. Flea larvae also respond to vibrations and movement, but in entirely different ways.
Flea larvae have been known to fake death when they detect movement but their most interesting behavior is clinging to certain when vibrations are felt. As dogs or cats scratch the larvae picks up on the motion, wrapping itself around the animal’s hair. Larvae have also been noted to do the same thing in carpet. When vacuum cleaners are close by, the larvae have been seen clinging to carpet fibers — but they are not too successful. Vacuuming usually picks up these larvae, despite their efforts.
As the end of the third instar larval stage draws near, flea larvae will begin to build the pupal casing in which they will develop into fully developed adults. A portion of the casing is made up of a silky material that is used to hold together all other parts of the cocoon. Larvae gather debris from their immediate surroundings with which they build their pupal case. Indoors, the tiny bits of debris include animal hair, human hair, dust, lint and small fibers of furniture, carpet and rugs. The materials used end up as the perfect camouflage as they blend in with their surroundings. If we could plainly see the pupae, they would be easier to locate and remove. Our only choice is to vacuum thoroughly and regularly to remove as many of the pupae as possible.
For more about the pupal stage, go to the flea pupae information page.
By themselves, fleas are not as mobile as one would believe. Adult fleas are designed for jumping (to locate and mount a warm blooded host) and crawling forward through the fur of animals. The eggs easily fall off of an animal as it moves. Flea larvae are capable of movement but do not stray far from where they emerge from the eggs. Their food sources are very close by as are the materials they need to spin and build their pupal casing. Warm blooded, nesting animals not only serve as the food source but also as a source of mobility, with adults, eggs and larvae food dropping off in various locations frequented by their host. This dependence on the host for moving about helps insure that the insect is scattered about an area. In nature’s scheme you will find many such examples of this «scattering of the species» which helps insure the propagation of the species. Certain spiders, ticks and fleas are examples of this phenomenon.

Understanding the makeup, feeding and ability to create the perfect pupal casing exhibited by the flea larvae should give you a better feel for the control or prevention of flea populations. Knowing that the larvae are not very mobile helps narrow down specific areas to include in the most important aspects of IPM for fleas: inspection, sanitation and the safe use of proper pest control products.

As you will see in preventing flea infestations, sanitation, the use of an insect growth regulator and a safe desiccant flea powder are your best and safest means of controlling flea larvae.

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