Ticks are annoying, disgusting, and can potentially spread numerous diseases, including Lyme disease and a host of others. If you know where ticks live, when they’re active, and how they attach themselves to a host, you can prevent one from biting you. A common question people often have is if ticks live in groups.
Ticks don’t live in groups. Unlike insects such as bees or ants, ticks aren’t communal animals. However, since ticks move slowly, you can find groups of ticks in an area where mammals travel or live. Soft-bodied ticks prefer rodent or bird nests so that they can have access to warm-blooded hosts.
Ticks are fascinating creatures that many know little about. For example, ticks are arachnids and not insects because they have eight legs, and they’re in the same family as spiders, scorpions, and mites. Keep reading to learn more about these fascinating if gross, and sometimes dangerous creatures.
Why Does It Seem Like Ticks Live in Groups?
It might seem like ticks live in groups because they’ve infested an area. Once ticks have infested an area, they like to linger in the same spot where they have easy access to warm-blooded animals there.
Social animals live together so they can help find food for the rest of the group. Ticks use blood to feed themselves and their offspring, and they have no way of sharing with other ticks. This behavior is different from insects like bees or ants.
In addition, ticks need to conserve energy in between feedings, and traveling back to a home base would consume much of that energy.
Finally, a tick’s host might travel several miles before the tick falls from its host. Ticks, despite popular belief, don’t remain on their hosts. Instead, the tick detaches itself after consuming a blood meal and then moves on to find another host or find a good site to molt.
Animals also live in social groups for protection. If you swat away a wasp, you’ll soon have more wasps swarming towards you. When herding animals feed, some members of the group will be grazing, and others will be on the lookout for danger. Finally, the grazing animals will swap places so that the rest of the herd can eat.
Ticks wouldn’t be able to protect each other very well. For one thing, they don’t have eyes. The Haller’s organs, located on the tips of their front legs, allow them to detect the heat emitted by warm-blooded animals and the carbon dioxide that mammals exhale. However, ticks can only detect this heat from several yards.
Where Do Ticks Thrive?
Ticks thrive in damp and humid environments with 90% or more humidity levels. Most can’t survive inside a house for more than several days. In a climate-controlled house, the ticks dry out and die—unless they’re feeding on a host.
Most ticks use a wait-and-see strategy known as “questing” to find their meal. They usually perch on a grass blade top or the edges of a bush or branch, waiting for their prey to pass by. When this happens, they stretch out and grasp onto fur or clothing. If they hold on, they begin to look for a place on their host to settle in and start to feed.
What’s a Tick’s Life Cycle?
A tick’s life cycle involves four life stages:
- A 6-legged larva, also known as a seed tick
- An 8-legged nymph
- An adult
These stages can take up to three years, depending on the species. Since ticks are blood-feeders, they need a host animal for their food.
After digesting blood, a larva turns into a nymph. After digesting a blood meal, both larvae and nymphs progress to the next stage. A larva typically feeds from a small host. After another blood meal, typically from a larger host, the nymph becomes an adult.
The adult looks for another host, feeds, drops off the host, and lays several thousand eggs. Shortly afterward, the adult dies.
How Are Soft Ticks Different From Hard Ticks?
Soft ticks are different from hard ticks in how they bite and hunt their victims. The bite of a soft tick is usually brief. Also, soft ticks won’t hunt for victims in grass or brush—instead, they find rodent burrows and prey on the sleeping animal.
Soft ticks have a much longer life cycle than hard ticks. Because soft ticks have more accessible and more frequent access to a food source, they can live up to ten years. Therefore, it can seem as though the soft ticks live as a group. But it’s better to think of them as roommates.
However, if the tick population grows too large or the hosts don’t return to the burrow, the ticks will spread out and look for other burrows. Just like hard-shelled ticks, once they leave the nest or burrow, they won’t likely return.
How Do Ticks Enter a Home?
Ticks enter a home by waiting for someone or a pet to walk past. These blood feeders prefer grassy and wooded locations. There, they lie and wait in tall grass or small bushes.
Once a warm-blooded victim (like you) brushes up against the ticks’ hiding place, they’ll try to land on you. If they land on your clothes, they’ll try to find exposed skin. Since ticks prefer warm, moist areas on the host, they often attach themselves to the armpit or groin.
So why don’t we feel a tick when it bites?
Well, after a tick finds a place that it wants to stay and feed, it attaches itself to the skin with a secretion that hardens rapidly. We don’t feel the bite because their saliva contains an anesthetic to prevent us (the host) from feeling the bite.
Also, ticks often travel up a host, leading to a common misconception that they fall from trees. Instead, they’re looking for a better feeding location than your ankle. If a tick falls on you, check to see if it has eight legs.
If not, a tick look-alike might have fallen on you. Stink bugs, bed bugs, immature aphids, and bird and clover mites are common bugs that can be confused with ticks.
So, ticks don’t enter your home. Instead, you and your pets bring them inside.
Even if you avoid tick-infested areas such as long grass and wooded areas and wear tick-resistant clothing, you or your pet could still get bitten by a tick.
If you get bitten, send a picture of the tick to TickSpotters. You’ll need to answer a few questions about your experience with the tick. Within 24 hours, you should receive an email. Not only will the ticket be identified, but your email will help with crowdsourcing tick populations.