How Do Ticks Latch on So Tight?

Author: Mosquito Squad of Franklin & Framingham

If you’ve ever had to pull a tick off, be it from your pet or child or self, you know it’s can take much more than just a flick of the finger. But why is that? Other pests that feed on blood, like mosquitoes, merely need swatting.

The answer comes down to two basics facts. How each is built and why. Mosquitoes quickly insert a tube-like needle into their host, take a sip, and move on to its next victim. A tick meal will last 3 to 10 days.

Why so long? It has to do with the life cycle of the tick. There are 4 stages: larva, nymph, adult, and for a female the added stage of reproduction. In each stage, the tick takes one blood meal.

A tick can live up to 3 years so if they are only feeding 4 times think about how big those meals need to be! For a female adult planning to lay eggs, a blood meal can be so large that her weight increases 200 times during feeding. This is why ticks have to be able to hold on to their host.

HOW DO TICKS LATCH ON SO WELL?

So very different from the mosquito and its needle-like mouth, the tick has an intricate set of hooks that help them pry their way in. First, it takes 2 “hands” with three hook-like fingers on the end. They use these to pull the skin out of the way in a series of what looks a bit like “swimming” strokes into the skin. While the skin is opened, it then pushes another menacing looking part called the hypostome into the skin. This too has hooks, but they are on the end and make it look a bit like a chainsaw. The hypostome’s purpose is to hold the tick in place. Its hooks will dig in and then turn so they can’t be pulled out easily.

Kerry Padgett, supervising public health biologist at California Dept. of Public Health aptly describes it as “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,” Once the tick is latched in tight, a compound in its saliva will thin the host’s blood. Then the blood pools under the skin and the tick can sip and sip til it’s full, as if casually relaxing by the pool and sipping on a cool drink for about a week.

Sounds a bit amazing, doesn’t it? Why don’t you watch for yourself?

Understanding how and why ticks latch on makes it easier to understand the necessity of protecting yourself by doing thorough tick checks after time spent outdoors. Lyme disease being our big concern in Massachusetts, it takes about 24 hours of a tick being attached before it transmits the disease, so you’re going to want to get them off quickly. Remove ticks by taking tweezers and pulling directly up and out of the skin. Leave any old wives tales you know with the old wives. 

Of course at Mosquito Squad of Franklin & Framingham, we would rather you not have to get this far. By using our barrier treatment and tick tube systems we can eliminate ticks from your yard on contact and limit the breeding of new ones for years to come. Call us today and let’s begin making that plan.