Ticks are bloodsucking external parasites related to mites.
There are around 850 species of ticks worldwide, Australia has approximately 75 species.
Ticks have a life cycle of four stages:
Egg - the female tick lays thousands of eggs on moist leaf litter.
Larvae - minute six-legged larvae hatch from the eggs after incubating for 40 to 60 days. The larvae must obtain a blood meal in order to moult to the nymph stage. Ticks are unable to fly or jump at any stage of their lives, they crawl up the nearest vegetation usually to a height of less than 50 cms and engage in “questing” behaviour, waving their forelegs around to try and catch on to a passing host. They can detect movement, heat and carbon dioxide from potential hosts, including mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs. Larvae can appear in large numbers, and may be described as seed ticks.
Nymph - after its moult, the larvae transforms into an eight-legged nymph form. To reach adult stage it must have another blood meal and moult again.
Adult - the adult females must obtain another blood meal before they are able to lay eggs. The adult males search hosts for females, they obtain their blood meal from biting the female tick rather than biting the host. Adults die after they reproduce.
Ticks feed by inserting their cutting mandible into the host’s skin then pushing a feeding tube (hypostome) into the host. The hypostome has backward facing teeth on its surface and the tick’s salivary glands exude a cement substance, these anchor the tick to its host. The amount of blood a tick ingests can increase its body weight by a factor of 600.
Unfortunately one of the most common tick species along the East Coast, including Tamborine Mountain, is the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus). These ticks have a hard dorsal plate, pointed snout, elongated mouthparts with legs gathered around the snout and are a light grey colour. Their salivary glands (located in the body not in the mouthparts) contain bioactive compounds including anticoagulants, paralytic neurotoxins and venom. The adult female tick inoculates the host with these toxins. Engorged late-phase feeding adult females are the most dangerous ticks.
It is wise for people to check themselves and particularly their children for ticks. For an infestation of seed ticks a bath with a cup of bicarb soda can assist. Ticks can be removed with tweezers, taking care not to squeeze the tick’s body or a pyrethrum spray can be applied, but meths; alcohol etc should be avoided. Although ticks are usually merely an irritant in the vast majority of cases, it is possible to contract infections or to experience serious allergic reaction from tick bite, so it is prudent to seek medical help if symptoms appear.
Paralysis ticks can be fatal to pets, daily checking is advisable and prompt veterinary attention should be sought if symptoms such as heavy breathing, coughing, voice change or unsteadiness appear.