Ticks are arachnids, which means that they share a number of physical characteristics with spiders. Adult ticks have eight legs and lack antennae. Different species can vary greatly in size and color, but their general appearance remains constant.
Ticks are generally classified as “hard” or “soft”. Hard ticks have a head that appears as a separate segment from their bodies, and have a plate of armor known as a shield distinctly visible on their backs. The size of the shield in relation to the body varies depending upon how much blood the tick has consumed.
The heads of soft ticks are covered by their bodies and only visible when viewed from below. They lack a shield, and their exoskeleton may feel leathery to the touch.
Depending upon the species of tick, the length of the tick’s body may be anywhere between 1/8 inch and 5/8-inch.
Ticks feed on blood from humans, wild animals, pets, livestock, reptiles, and birds. Almost all species of land animal with a circulatory system can fall prey to ticks. As a parasitic animal, they are dependent upon the blood of their hosts for all their nourishment. Ticks carry a serious risk of disease or infection, which increases significantly the longer the tick stays attached to its host.
Ticks begin life as larvae, which attach to small animals and feed. After they have fed sufficiently, the larvae detach and molt to nymphs, entering the second stage of their lifecycle. Nymphs feed on slightly larger prey until it is time for them to molt again. By the third stage in their lifecycle, ticks are able to reproduce. They attach themselves to one more host, at which point females will lay their eggs.
Though ticks require hosts in order to achieve each successive stage in their life cycle, many species of ticks can go days or even weeks without feeding. The shortest-lived ticks survive for about two months, while the longest-lived may live as much as two years.
Ticks thrive in warm, humid areas. These climates are the most productive for their metamorphoses. They find new hosts by climbing onto a leaf or blade of tall grass and waiting for prospective animal to pass by. Then they detach themselves in the hopes of landing on a viable host.