Hungry Tick Hordes

The Missouri Ozarks is headquarters for the hungry tick hordes this summer. For those lucky people unfamiliar with ticks, these creatures are arachnids related to mites and spiders. They have eight legs except for newly hatched ones with six. They appear round to oval in shape although careful examination reveals a head with a beak and a short section with legs attached.

Ticks hatch from eggs. This is the first instar. After a blood meal, they molt and enter the second larger instar stage. Another blood meal takes them to the third instar. The adult instar is next.

Hungry tick hordes ambush stance
Many ticks of all sizes climb up on a plant stalk to wait for passing animals. They stand with their front legs extended ready to leap on and hang on. They can tell ahead of time when some victim is coming and get ready.

The Ozarks is home to several kinds of ticks. These are somewhat seasonal. Wood or American dog ticks can show up any time of year, but seem to prefer cooler weather. Deer ticks are common in the fall. Lone star ticks are warm weather ticks and the most voracious and numerous.

The hungry tick hordes begin their attack in spring whenever the days are warm. This attack is primarily adults and second instar that have overwintered.

tick racing across leaf
Ticks are determined creatures. This one knew I was sitting on the ground. I think is was sensing body heat. It came racing over. I wanted a picture and moved it away. It ran over. It took several tries before I could get the camera up and take a picture before the tick got to me. These things are fast.

Once I sat down out on the hill. A tick noticed me and charged over. Charged is the right word as this quarter inch across tick crossed a foot of dead leaves in a few seconds.

Binoculars reveal that deer are popular targets. Bloated adult ticks are half inch diameter spheres easy to see.

Goats and, assumedly deer, rub their ears, necks and sides against trees. They scratch with their hooves and can tear a bloated tick open killing it. They lie flat on the grass and scoot along. These may remove some ticks, but most stay hidden in their fur.

Some ticks are all business and attach as soon as they find a good spot. Others hide in the fur, crawl around checking their host out for a day or two before digging in.

one of the hungry tick hordes
Finding an engorged tick out on the hillside is rare. They disappear under the leaves as soon as they can. This one probably fell off a deer going down into the ravine just past this spot.

Maddening as these hungry tick hordes are, the worst begins in summer heat. Those big bloated ticks lay up to a thousand eggs each. Those eggs hatch into what are called seed ticks.

The only real warning of a seed tick attack is the warm, tickling blanket advancing up a leg. Each individual is almost too small to see, a minute brown spot barely the size of a period.

Tick with egg mass
The big engorged ticks are all females. They are pregnant. They try to get the biggest meal they can. The more they eat, the more eggs they can lay. After laying their eggs, the tick dies.

Masking tape picks off scores from skin and clothes. Soap and water with vigorous scrubbing takes off scores more. No matter how careful the search, more are there waiting until the victim is falling asleep at night to crawl across the face or back or dig in setting fire to toes.

The seed ticks have started hatching.