Tick Behavior: What Do Ticks Do?

It’s been thousands of years since Sun Tzu penned ‟The Art of War,” but his words continue to ring true in modern day life. ‟Know your enemy” is one such lesson, and is the reason why learning about tick behavior will help you avoid tick bites.

What you should know about tick behavior

Aside from what you probably already know about ticks (e.g., ticks feed on hosts, sucking their blood, possibly transmitting diseases, etc.), their specific behavior gives insight into how people get bitten. For example, did you know that there are two different types of ticks? Hard-shell ticks and soft-shell ticks have different behavior patterns that explain how and why some people get bitten by ticks, while others don’t.

Hard-shell ticks: Since ticks can’t jump up or drop down on hosts, hard-shell ticks find their host by ‟questing.” A questing tick crawls up onto long weeds and grass, or perches itself on leaf edges or other vegetation. There, it waits for a host to pass by, its clawed front legs extended out, ready to grab hold of you. Ticks can sense heat, color, movement and biochemicals such as carbon dioxide, so they are driven to quest by the presence of hosts in the area. As the potential host walks through the environment, they brush up against the leaves, grass and weeds in the area. The questing tick grabs on with its extended front legs, then quickly crawls to exposed skin to feed. Tick larvae quest at ground level, while tick nymphs can climb up a little higher to find bigger hosts. Adult ticks climb up the highest, which is why many tick bites occur around the head and neck. Other favorite bite spots include the armpit and groin, and feeding sessions can last from hours to days.

Soft-shell ticks: There are a few species of soft-shell ticks that quest, but the overwhelming majority does not. Instead, they are nest parasites. This means they live in sheltered areas, such as animals’ nests, caves and burrows in nature. They can also live around the bedding of their hosts, yours and your pet’s included. They crawl through the hosts’ nests or bedding, feeding mostly at night. This soft-shell tick behavior closely resembles the feeding patterns of bed bugs and fleas. Once they are established in the host’s nesting area, they will not leave. Female soft-shell ticks even lay their eggs inside the nest. Adults return to feed over and over again on the same host, while larvae and nymphs crawl throughout the nest seeking blood. Feeding sessions are quick, taking just a few minutes.

Knowing what you now know about tick behavior, taking precautions while walking outdoors is the best way to avoid tick bites. Wear long pants tucked into socks and use tick repellent in tick-infested areas. Minimize skin exposure while outdoors and perform thorough tick checks when you get home. While you can’t always avoid tick behavior, you can minimize your exposure to risk by understanding it. If you have any concerns about ticks in your home, call Terminix® to discuss your options.