How does a tick bite?

Larval ticks climb a blade of grass and prepare to attach to any unsuspecting host by assuming a “questing” position. The tick hangs on the grass with its back legs, stretches out its front legs, and waits. A tick knows you’re there by your smell (carbon dioxide, ammonia, or other body odors), body heat, moisture, vibration, or shadow. When a tick senses these signals, it gets excited, waves its front legs, and grabs on. Ticks don’t jump – they have to have direct contact with their host. Immature ticks stay in low vegetation, whereas adults like areas with higher growth.

A tick doesn’t really bite - it grasps the skin, cuts into it, and secretes “cement” that holds its mouthparts in place while it feeds. It takes 10 to 120 minutes for the tick to insert its mouthparts. The mouthparts of the adult are larger than those of the larval or nymphal tick, and can pierce the skin more deeply - an adult’s mouthparts can reach the subdermal layer of skin making it more difficult to remove. The lone star tick has a very long mouthpart and its bite can be especially painful and irritating. Ticks attach and feed for days. To see how a dog tick “bites,” watch this from National Public Radio.

Watch a tick bite

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