© Queensland Museum 2007

Ticks (General)
Fact Sheet
Ticks don't have a waist, neck or even a proper head. They
have eight legs and a round flat body. What appears to be the
"head¨ of a tick is a special fused structure of mouthparts and
sensory appendages found only in ticks and mites. Ticks are
actually a particular kind of mite, and fully fed ticks are the most
massive mites of all. All ticks feed exclusively on blood stolen
from mammals, birds, reptiles, or in one South American
species, from cane toads. Ticks are an ancient group, as shown
by a 90 million year old tick in amber which is similar to some
modern species. There are over 800 species of ticks worldwide
divided into two major families, the soft ticks and the hard ticks.

The ticks outlined here, and other less commonly encountered
species, can be brought to the Queensland Museum Ìnquiry
Centre for identification.

Hard ticks
The majority of ticks are "hard¨ ticks (family Ìxodidae, 630
species), which have a hard fingernail-shaped shield on their
backs. This family includes all of the commonly encountered
ticks, for example:
the Australian Paralysis tick which often attaches to
humans, dogs, and many other animals on the east coast of
Australia (see separate fact sheet which includes information on
tick removal).
the Ornate Kangaroo tick which is common west of the
Great Dividing Range and often attaches to humans.
the Brown Dog Tick.
the Cattle Tick.

LifecycIe of Hard Ticks
After hatching, tiny six-legged larvae seek their first meal. During
each meal they swell enormously, and once bloated to capacity
they moult to their next life stage. Larvae are too small for many
people to see when they attach for their first feed; but after
feeding they are approximately the size of the head of a pin.
Unlike later stages, tick larvae tend to cluster together and a
close encounter with a larval cluster can result in many, even
hundreds, of tiny attached ticks. After engorging, larvae drop off
to digest their bloodmeal and then moult to the nymphal stage.
The nymphs then seek a new host. After gorging themselves,
the now half-matchhead-sized nymphs drop to the ground, digest
their meal and moult to adulthood, at which point they are ready
to locate their final meal. Hard ticks only feed and moult a
maximum of three times during their life.

Host finding of hard ticks
Most hard ticks find hosts by lying in ambush at sites close to the
ground. Ticks become excited when they detect vibrations,
certain odours or carbon dioxide from a potential host. They
then move towards their intended victim smelling the air with
eagerly extended first legs. They always clamber onto hosts;
they cannot jump. Once on their chosen host they may spend a
long time searching for protected sites such as the armpits, groin
or around the head, neck and ears. Even though ticks are often
found on the head and neck this is a result of ticks climbing to a
favoured attachment site rather than dropping from trees.

Feeding of hard ticks
The most obvious tick
mouthpart is the
hypostome, an immobile
barbed prong that juts out
from the front of the tick
and is flanked by sensory

The hypostome is
overlaid by a pair of thin
strap-like appendages
tipped with fine cutting
blades (the chelicerae).
These blades slice into
the skin while the barbs
anchor the tick inside the
wound. Many ticks (e.g.
Brown Dog Tick, Cattle Tick) also secure themselves more
strongly with the aid of a special cement substance.
Attached hard ticks do not feed continually, rather they suck
blood and "spit¨ out excess water, salts and sometimes toxins,
back into the wound. By spitting out excess fluid their meal of
blood is made as thick as possible to cram the maximum amount
of protein into their bloated bodies.
Hard ticks usually spend 5-8 days or more feeding at the one site
on a single host. Compared to other blood feeders (e.g. leeches,
fleas, lice or mosquitoes), this is extremely unusual. Their ability
to feed successfully for so long is because they prevent strong


Ornate Kangaroo Ticks

Underside view of tick mouthparts
Female Ornate Kangaroo Tick starting to feed on human




© Queensland Museum 2007

reactions from their host's immune system using a cocktail of
over 60 biochemicals. For four or more days after attachment
hard ticks slowly increase in size.

During this long initial period the tick's skin is growing by
thickening but the overall body size increases only slightly. After
about four days of the tick's skin preparing in this way, there is a
dramatic acceleration in the tick's feeding ("the big sip¨), when it
rapidly increases body volume many times within 24 hours. The
result is a grossly bloated tick, up to 120 times heavier than
when it first attached.

Hard Tick egg-Iaying
Engorged, a female tick drops off her host and crawls to a
sheltered site to spend her final weeks digesting blood before
laying over 1000 (up to 23 000) eggs. As each egg is laid, it is
coated in wax to prevent drying out making egg-laying a
laborious process that can take up to two weeks, after which the
exhausted mother dies. Flexing her mouthparts downwards she
scoops up a freshly-laid egg from her abdomen and then flexing
up again presents the egg to two fleshy tentacle-like organs
(Gene's organs) that emerge from underneath her dorsal shield.
These organs give each egg a coat of waxes and other
protective compounds.

Ornate Kangaroo Tick Amblyomma triguttatum
Ìn western and northern Queensland, people may attract Ornate
Kangaroo Ticks. The adult females have an almost circular
body, are noticeably large (about 5mm long before feeding), with
very long legs and a set of pale metallic marks on the dorsal
shield. Ìn western Queensland this marking is just a single spot.
The minute larvae are most commonly encountered in summer,
and nymphs are most likely to be found in February/March.

Ornate kangaroo ticks can induce local skin reactions and a
delayed hypersensitivity reaction 24-48 hours after tick removal.
For sensitised people, subsequent bites may induce intense skin
reactions and severe discomfort.

Brown Dog Tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus
Brown Dog Ticks are almost entirely restricted to dogs and their
occasional attachment to other animals (pigs, cattle and very
rarely humans) is accidental. They need a warm climate and are
highly tolerant of arid conditions which is not surprising since
their original home includes Saharan Africa. Unusually they can
be abundant in both the driest and the wettest areas of
Queensland. Dingoes only support low numbers of this tick.
The Brown Dog Tick differs from the Australian Paralysis Tick by
having short mouthparts and all legs of the same colour.
Magnification will reveal a useful identifying feature only found in
this species: a strong cleft on the first segment of the first leg.
Although their bodies tendto be dark brown, body colour should
never be relied upon for tick identification. This tick is mostly a
nuisance to dogs, however large populations can build up, and
then dogs can become weakened and anaemic. Only a small
proportion of the infesting population is present on the dog at any
one time. The majority of the ticks will be concealed in hiding
places near where dogs rest (kennels and bedding). The ticks
found on the dog will include many males.

Ìn other parts of the world, Brown Dog Ticks can transmit an
agent of spotted fever, however in Australia they are not known
to harbour this pathogen.

CattIe Tick Boophilus microplus
Cattle ticks are native to Africa where they naturally feed on large
grazing animals. They are now found throughout warmer areas
of the world where cattle are present. Female cattle ticks attach
as larvae and only finally detach when they are ready to drop off
to lay eggs. They can do this because they have evolved the
remarkable ability to moult between stages while remaining on
the host. They cannot survive in very dry areas or in the
absence of large grazing animals such as cattle. Cattle ticks can
also be common on feral deer in Queensland. They have great
economic importance as they can transmit debilitating diseases
to cattle.

Soft ticks
Unlike the hard ticks discussed above, "soft¨ ticks (family
Argasidae, 180 species) are secretive and rarely-encountered
nest or roost-dwellers with a highly wrinkled skin.

Visitors to coral cays may be unfortunate enough to feel the bites
of the Seabird Soft Tick (Carios capensis). Seabird Soft Ticks
are associated with seabird islands and rookeries. They can
reach high population densities but most are not seen. They
feed on seabirds and on human visitors to coral cays and other
islands in warm areas where seabirds nest. Seabird Soft Ticks
mostly feed at night and unlike hard ticks, adult soft ticks feed
stealthily and rapidly (in less than 20 minutes) and then retreat to
concealed hiding places. They can produce extremely irritating
reactions in sensitised individuals and are known to carry a wide
variety of viruses.

Author: Matthew Shaw

Further reading:
Roberts, F.H.S. (1970) Australian Ticks

Queensland Museum
PO Box 3300, South Bank
QLD 4101 Australia
Phone: (07) 3840 7555
Web: http://www.qm.qld.gov.au

May 2008

Ornate Kangaroo Tick laying eggs
Male Brown Dog Tick, note cleft in first segment of first leg
(Catherine Harvey)


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