August - October: larval ticks are out hunting for a host

It's hunting season here in Yukon, and winter tick larvae are on the hunt too!
Winter Tick life stages

At this time of year the newly hatched larval ticks - also known as "seed ticks" because of their tiny size - are trying to find a host. Each tick is approximately the size of a grain of sand, but hundreds to thousands of these tiny larvae now climb approximately 1-1.5m from the ground on whatever vegetation available, and clump together in a larger "tick ball". This waiting behaviour, known as "questing", is of key importance if they are to be successful in finding a host. Questing larvae sit and wait, their front legs raised, and as soon as a mammal comes near they wave their legs frantically, hoping to climb on to the host. When one larvae attaches, all of its larval siblings hold on to it - forming a chain - allowing them to all climb aboard! Once on a host, the larvae burrow down into the hosts hair and take their first blood meal. A single host can accumulate tens of thousands of larvae during this transmission season.

Winter ticks are generally not interested in going on humans - they much prefer moose, elk, deer or caribou! However they can mistake people walking by for a suitable host. These ticks are not known to transmit any diseases to humans, but doing a tick check (especially behind the knees, armpits, groin) after long day in the field is a good idea to prevent unwanted hitchhikers!

If you find larvae questing, or come into contact with a tick ball, upload photos to the Yukon Winter Tick Monitoring Project on iNaturalist, and if possible, bring the larvae in a ziplock bag (along with a note of where you found them) to the Animal Health Unit in Whitehorse.

Posted by emilychenery emilychenery, August 14, 2018 09:56 PM

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