Ticks: Ixodida

Listen, I tried to find a silver lining to ticks. I really did. But being the disease ecology nerd that I am, I was quickly sidetracked by the innumerable bloodborne pathogens transmitted by ticks. Therein lies the silver lining, I suppose; pathogen transmission is a sound method of population control within local ecosystems. 

Ticks (Order Ixodida) are a relatively young order of arachnids, showing up in the fossil record about 146 – 66 mya during the Cretaceous period. There are only 3 described families (as opposed to 120 spider families) and one family contains a single species. The other two families are divided into hard-bodied ticks and soft-bodied ticks.

Depending on the species, the life cycles of ticks can become very complicated very quickly, with most species requiring two or more hosts. Hard bodied ticks attach to a host and feed until they are grotesquely bloated, which can take days to weeks, depending on the age of the tick and what life stage they are at. After feeding, they will drop, molt, and search for a new host. 

Soft-bodied ticks, on the other hand, feed quickly (within hours), usually going unnoticed by their hosts. They feed at night, and are attracted to their host by the carbon dioxide expelled from their breath.

Tick fun fact! Yeah, I’ve got at least one up my sleeve. The pathogen that causes Lyme disease is a spirochete bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi; and while this disease is spread by hard-bodied ticks on the east coast, the bacterium was discovered right here in Montana by Willy Burgdorfer, a world renowned medical entomologist based out of Rocky Mountain Labs (RML) in Hamilton, MT.