How Many Different Types of Ticks are There?

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

A tick is a type of arachnid, closely related to the spider. There are two main types of this parasitic creature and many different species. Read on to learn more.

Abundant Arachnids

If you spend time in the woods or take your dog hiking, you have probably been told to check your scalp and dog's skin for a small hitchhiker. This arachnid is a close relative of the spider, and it loves to suck blood. It is the tick, an eight-legged parasite that may be best-known for making its home on the back of a dog. How many different types of ticks exist? Join us as we learn more about this small but potentially harmful creature.

An example of a hard tick

What is a Tick?

Before we look at types of ticks, let's get a better understanding of what this small creature is. As we already mentioned, the tick is a member of class Arachnida, related to the spider. Like all other arachnids, it has eight jointed legs, no wings, and no antennae. Many are quite small, about the size of a sesame seed.

Ticks are a unique type of arachnid because they must suck blood to survive. Like tiny vampires, they latch onto mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians and drink away. As they feed, their bodies often become large and swollen with blood. As they bite through the skin of their victims, they can transmit harmful diseases which we will discuss later.

Grossly swollen body of a wood tick after feeding

Two Main Types of Ticks

There are around 850 different tick species found throughout the world, belonging to two major families. These are hard ticks, known as Ixodidae, and soft ticks, known as Argasidae. Hard ticks, as their name suggests, have a hard plate on their back. They are more likely to bite and feed on people and animals and transmit dangerous diseases as a result.

Hard ticks are those you are likely to encounter in the woods or find on the back of your dog. Three common examples of hard ticks are the brown dog tick, the American dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick. When you check through your dog's fur after a woodsy hike, you might feel the small and hard body of a tick.

Soft ticks, on the other hand, lack the hard plate on their backs and are instead wrinkled and soft-bodied. Two common examples are the common fowl tick, otherwise known as the chicken tick, and the pigeon tick.

Example of a soft tick

About 90 species of ticks make their home in the U.S. Ticks are found primarily in outdoor environments. Hard ticks thrive in wooded areas, among the tall grass and in trees and shrubs where they might find a host. Some, such as dog ticks, make their way indoors on a human or canine.

Common Ticks in the U.S.

In the U.S., three types of ticks are most prevalent. First are the blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Named for their preference for deer blood, these hard ticks are widespread throughout the Northeast and parts of the Midwest.

Then there are the dog ticks, also known as wood ticks, that keep our canine friends scratching at their irritated bites. The brown dog tick is most common, and it is the only type of tick that can live exclusively indoors. Although most ticks must lay eggs in the soil, the brown dog tick can lay its eggs anywhere including floors, rugs and sofas. These ticks are found throughout the eastern U.S. as well as parts of the West Coast.

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