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Deer Ticks and Cat Fleas

Tick facts

  • Ticks are scientifically classified as Arachnida (which includes spiders). The fossil record suggests ticks have been around at least 90 million years.
  • Most tick bites do not transmit pathogens.
  • There are a variety of tick-borne diseases.
  • There is a wide range of symptoms that usually develop days to weeks after the tick bite. The symptoms that become manifest depend on the particular microbe (pathogen) that is transmitted.
  • For all tick bites, local cleansing and antibiotic cream may be applied.
  • There are safe and effective methods for the removal of all types of ticks.

What are ticks?

Ticks are small arachnids. Ticks require blood meals to complete their complex life cycles. Ticks are scientifically classified as Arachnida (which includes spiders). The fossil record suggests ticks have been around at least 90 million years. There are over 800 species of ticks throughout the world, but only two families of ticks, Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks), are known to transmit diseases or illness to humans. Hard ticks have a scutum, or hard plate, on their back while soft ticks do not.

Ticks have a complex life cycle that includes eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adult male and female ticks. The larvae, nymphs, and adults all need blood meals. Usually, the female adult (hard tick) is the one causing the most bites as males usually die after mating. Ticks do not jump or fly. They simply reach out with their legs and grab or crawl onto a host. Although some larvae have preferred hosts, most ticks in the nymph or adult phase will attach a get a blood meal from several different kinds of animals, including humans. Except for a few species of larval ticks, the immature phases (larvae, nymphs) usually are even less selective about where they get a blood meal and are known to bite snakes, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Larvae are very small (about 1/32 of an inch with six legs), while nymphs are about 1/16-1/8 inch with eight legs and adults about 3/16-1/4 inch with eight legs. The complex life cycles are described in the last web citation below, and all of the web citations include pictures of various species of ticks. Although ticks will die eventually if they do not get a blood meal, many species can survive a year or more without a blood meal. The hard ticks tend to attach and feed for hours to days. Disease transmission usually occurs near the end of a meal, as the tick becomes full of blood. It may take hours before a hard tick transmits pathogens. Soft ticks usually feed for less than one hour. Disease transmission can occur in less than a minute with soft ticks. The bite of some of these soft ticks produces intensely painful reactions. 

Ticks are vectors (transmitters) of diseases for humans and animals. Ticks can transmit disease to many hosts; some cause economic harm such as Texas fever (bovine babesiosis) in cattle that can kill up to 90% of yearling cows. Ticks act as vectors when pathogens in their saliva and mouth secretions get into the host's skin and blood. Ticks were understood to be vectors of disease in the mid-1800s, and as investigative methods improved (microscopes, culture techniques, tissue staining), more information showed the wide variety of diseases that could be transmitted by ticks.

Cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis, are the most common ectoparasite on domestic cats and dogs. Dog fleas, look like cat fleas but are rare in New Jersey. Sticktight fleas, are commonly found on ground squirrels and poultry; the females firmly attach themselves along the ears and eyes of their host They can become a problem with pets that roam. However, fleas on cats or dogs in New Jersey most likely are cat fleas.

IDENTIFICATION

Adult fleas are no larger than 1/8 inch long, so it is difficult to see a number of the characteristics used to describe them. These reddish-brown, wingless insects are laterally compressed, so they look as if they are walking on edge. Cat fleas have both pronotal and genal combs. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts through which they obtain blood meals from their hosts. 

 LIFE CYCLE

Unlike most fleas, adult cat fleas remain on the host where feeding, mating, and egg laying occur. Females lay about 20 to 50 eggs per day. Cat flea eggs are pearly white, oval, and about 1/32 inch long (Figure 3). The eggs are smooth and readily fall from the pet and land on surfaces such as bedding and carpeting in the animal’s environment. They hatch in about 2 to 5 days.

Flea larvae are no larger than 3/16 inch long, hairy, and wormlike with a distinct, brownish head but no eyes or legs (Figure 4). The larvae feed on dried blood and excrement adult fleas produce while feeding on the pet. Larval development is restricted to protected places where there is at least 75% relative humidity. The larvae feed and crawl around for 8 to 15 days before building small, silken cocoons in which they pupate and develop into adults


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