What are Ticks?

Ticks have a concerning reputation for carrying and transmitting serious diseases to humans and animals.

Ticks are 8 legged arachnids. They are not insects. They are found all over the word, with 850 identified specifies, and fall into two categories - hard and soft (leathery) ticks. Most species of ticks are external parasites of mammals, birds, and reptiles. Most are also known vectors of various diseases to both humans and animals (both wild and domestic).

While ticks are typically most active in the summer, they have been found year-round, even in freezing temperatures. Some tick species survive indoors, while others must breed and dwell outdoors.


Common Ticks Found in Canada

Here in Canada, hard ticks are most common, specifically these 4 species:

  • Deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), or black-legged tick
  • American dog tick
  • Brown dog tick
  • Rocky Mountain wood tick

Ticks common to Canada may live in bushes, grasslands, forests or densely woods areas. Some inhabit higher elevations or brush in mountain regions or foothills. Here in Ontario, Deer ticks are present. These ticks prefer to live in tall grasses, woodlands and bushes around Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the north shores of Lake Erie.


What do Ticks Look Like?

Mature ticks have 2 body sections, 8 legs and moving mouthparts. Their heads are fused to their thorax. Their colouring ranges from various shades of brown, black, grey and white

Ticks range in size from a sesame seed to a pea. When they feed, and are engorged with their host’s blood, their body expands to give them a larger appearance.

The deer tick (blacklegged tick) common to Ontario (and feared most), is the size of a sesame seed. Male deer ticks have solid dark brown colouring, while females are reddish in colour, with black dorsal markings. Females are slightly larger than males and can become as large as 10mm post feeding.

a deer tick on human skin

What do Ticks Eat?

Ticks are parasites and need a host (like a mammal, bird or reptile) to survive. Common hosts are deer, livestock, dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, squirrels and humans. Post engorging on a host’s blood, a tick often falls off its host. They will seek out shelter until their next blood meal is needed.

While most tick species can survive long periods of time between blood meals, they do consume a blood meal during each stage of their life cycle. Different tick species favour different hosts, but they will feed on any blood source available to them.


The Lifecycle of a Tick

The average life of an adult tick spans 1-3 years and is often dependent on access to ‘food’ during its life cycle. All ticks go through four life phases - egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Each stage requires a blood meal to continue development.

Adult female ticks will mate off or on a host, then feed for several days. Once the female becomes engorged with blood, she falls off her host, finds a leafy place to lay thousands of eggs, and dies.

Tick eggs normally hatch within four to ten days. Larvae are tiny (the size of a period), have 6 legs, and care for themselves. They will seek a blood meal from mice or birds. Once transformed into a Nymph, they are the size of a poppy seed and look like a small 6-legged adult tick. During this phase, they will feed on hosts like deer, dogs and humans (like adult ticks), before they mature into an adult tick.


How Do Ticks Enter My Property?

Ticks are often found near highly vegetated and wooded areas. They climb to the top of blades of grass and wait for a host to walk past. Using a single pair of their legs, they grasp onto a host. They often find their way into yards and homes by hitchhiking unknowingly on people, household pets (like dogs) and clothing.


Do Ticks Bite?

Yes, ticks bite. They are parasites that require blood to live. They are a huge concern because they can transmit diseases to animals and humans at all stages of their life cycles. A bite from a deer tick (blacklegged ticks) poses a risk for Lyme disease


How to Avoid Tick Bites

Here are some tips to help you prevent being bitten by a tick when outdoors:

  • Wear light-colored clothing to be able to more easily spot ticks on your body before they bite.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and enclosed footwear.
  • Apply insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin as per the directions.  
  • Diligently inspect yourself (and others) after being outdoors - Inspect behind your knees and ears, armpits, naval, groin, around your waist and hair.
  • Regularly inspect your pets and speak with your veterinarian about tick prevention.
  • Shower to help wash off ticks that have not attached themselves to you yet.
  • Dry clothing or articles on high heat for at least an hour to kill off any ticks that attached themselves.

If you live near common tick habitats, consider:

  • Regularly trimming trees and shrubs and cutting away long grasses, especially at edges of your property.
  • Dispose of yard waste.
  • Minimize wood piles around your property.
  • Keep children’s play equipment away from long grasses and wooded areas and consider placing on a foundation of mulch or woodchips.


Do Ticks Transmit Diseases?

Ticks carry viruses and bacteria that are harmful to humans and animals. Common diseases spread by ticks include:

  • Tularemia
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Lyme disease
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Babesiosis
  • Relapsing fever
  • Colorado tick fever

Contrary to believe, not all ticks carry Lyme disease. The deer tick (blacklegged tick) is the common vector for Lyme disease, but not all deer ticks carry this disease either.

Lyme disease is a serious debilitating, infection. It is rarely fatal, and often misdiagnosed because early symptoms are flu-like. Sometimes, the victim has slow spreading rash at the bite location that resembles a bull’s-eye-shape. Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Deer ticks become exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria through feeding on wild animals infected with it. Ticks that are infected with this bacterium can transmit this to humans upon biting and feeding. It is possible to encounter an infected tick here in Ontario, however the chances are low.

Lyme disease needs to be diagnosed and treated with antibiotics by a doctor. In cases where it goes unnoticed or untreated, infected persons can suffer from severe headaches, numbness, arthritis, paralysis, heart palpitations and neurological problems. While rare, untreated Lyme disease has resulted in death.


What Do I Do if I Have Been Bitten by a Tick?

Tick bites are not painful, and often go unnoticed. Once they are done feeding, they fall off their host and take shelter until they need to feed again.

Removing a feeding tick from your body or someone else’s is not advised. If the tick is crushed during removal, any infected fluids it may have inside could be released into the host. This also further contaminates the bite area and puts the host’s health at risk. If you think you may have been bitten by a tick or have in fact been bitten, seek professional medical advice or attention.


Do Ticks Cause Damage?

Ticks do not cause damage to homes or structures.


How to Get Rid of Ticks

The first step in helping to get rid of ticks is to prevent them. There are many ways that you help minimize the risk of ticks in and around your home and property.

Now sure how to prevent ticks?  Here are some helpful tips:

  • Keep trees and shrubs trimmed to let in sunlight.
  • Keep your grass mowed short.
  • Cut away long grasses at the edges of your property.
  • Regularly dispose of yard waste and organic matter, especially leaf litter and weeds.
  • Minimize wood piles around your property and keep clear of brush and long grasses.
  • Move bird feeders away from the house.
  • Deter rodents, like mice and rats from your premise.
  • Install and keep fencing in good repair to keep your pets inside your property, and animals, like deer, out.
  • Keep children’s play equipment (sandboxes, playhouses, swing sets, etc.) away from long grasses, wooded areas, and the edges of your property. Consider placing these on foundations made of mulch or woodchips.
  • If you have outdoor pets, check them each time they venture outdoors, and minimize their time in wooded areas. Speak with your vet about tick prevention options.


If ticks are still concern for you and your family, consider hiring tick control experts to help you get rid of ticks, and gain more peace of mind when enjoying the outdoors.

Call 1 (800) 263-5055

Our Professional Team is Happy to Help!