Deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis, are arachnids, not insects, more closely related to the 8-legged spiders and mites than to ants, beetles, and other 6 legged-beasts. They’re hard bodied ticks (Ixodidae), and a significant vector of a number of vexing diseases. Males and females are sexually dimorphic, with adult females larger and with a prominent red shield (see images below).
Like other ticks, deer ticks are blood-sucking, obligate ectoparasites, with a rather broad range of hosts, happily feeding on :
- mammals large (deer, while critical hosts for adult ticks, are not carriers of Lyme: link)
- and small (white-footed mice are a major carrier of the disease)
- amphibians and
- reptiles (out west, the western black-legged tick feeds on blue fence lizards, which amazingly rid the tick of Lyme (link)).
Deer ticks live roughly 2 years, yet feed only 3 times during this period (males, which are smaller and don’t have to spend all that energy producing eggs as adults so occasionally forgo their third meal). Each blood meal is taken from a different host, and there appears to be some partitioning of hosts between life stages to avoid competition between individuals (link). Tomorrow we’ll look at the 3 life stages of a deer tick.