This week’s word is questing. The definition I’ll use here is specific to Acari, aka ticks.
questing/kwest-ing/verb. The process by which ticks search for a host by crawling up a stem of grass or leaf. Front legs are extended in response to movement, heat, and carbon dioxide from a passing host and are used to grasp onto the legs or body of the host.
When a tick hatches from its egg as a 6-legged larvae, it’s immediately on the hunt for a host from which to take a blood meal. Once it’s done so, it molts into an 8-legged nymph. After another blood meal, it molts into an adult. Adult female ticks feed one more time, lay eggs, then die. Some species of ticks feed on only one host, some feed on two hosts, and others feed on three hosts during their life cycle.
The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is unique it in that it can complete its entire three-host life cycle INDOORS. Yuck! This tick can feed on a variety of mammals, but it prefers the dog. Infestations in houses can get out of control very quickly. An adult female can lay as many as 5000 eggs over a period of 15 days, in cracks and crevices in secluded areas of the home. Questing takes places from the floor and lower walls rather than blades of grass.
The deer or blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) is also a three-host tick. Larvae are in peak questing mode in August, feeding on a variety of mammals and birds, including the white-footed mouse. After feeding, the larvae drop off and over-winter. In spring, they molt into nymphs and quest for a new host. After feeding for 3-4 days, they drop off and molt into adults. Adult deer ticks are actively feeding in the fall and remain active through the winter, on days when the temperature is more moderate.
Why is questing important? Mainly because it’s the behavior of the tick that leads to it attaching to our dogs, cats, birds, horses, sheep, goats, cattle, and other animals. And don’t forget about us humans! Although having an arthropod attached to your body drinking your blood is repulsive, the worst part about this invasive maneuver is the tick’s ability to spread disease. Click here for a one-page handout listing 14 tick-borne diseases in the U.S.
So, what’s a dog- or cat-loving parent to do?
As always, prevention is best. Use a flea/tick preventive, such as Advantix, Frontline, Bravecto, or the Seresto collar. If you prefer to use a more natural method, check out Dr. Melissa Shelton’s line of essential oils for animals: animaleo.info. Look for her essential oil blend called “Away.” For more information about how she deals with ticks and other external parasites in her own animals, click here.
Get in the habit of checking over your pets every time they go outside. Don’t be deceived into thinking that just because you and your pet haven’t been walking in the woods, that you won’t have encountered any ticks. If you do find a tick on your pet, don’t panic. You can always call your vet’s office for advice about removing it, and they’ll be happy to do it for you if you prefer.
If you want to remove it yourself, use a pointed tweezers and grasp the tick very close to the skin. Pull the tick out like a splinter. Please don’t use matches, dish soap, Vaseline, or other remedies you may hear or read about. We want to avoid making the tick angry, because there’s evidence anxious ticks barf up their stomach contents into their host. This means if they’re carrying disease organisms, they get rapidly injected into the blood before you remove the tick. Again, yuck!