A Tick’s Life Spans Four Stages, if it Makes it That Long
The most common species of disease-spreading ticks, known as hard ticks, go through four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult.
Requiring a feeding in each of the four life stages, finding a blood host is crucial to a tick’s survival. Sometimes taking up to several years to complete their life cycle, most ticks will die because they are unable to find a blood host during one of the four life stages, never making it to the adult stage..
Four Tick Life Stages
Ticks begin their life as eggs. After feeding throughout the spring, adult females will drop off their blood host, and lay their eggs in protected areas of grass. Able to lay over one thousand eggs if the female is well-fed, the eggs hatch by summer as small, six-legged larvae.
Once hatched, the larvae begin searching for a blood host to feed on. Known as “questing,” larva ticks wait on the tips of leaves and tall grasses next to paths that are often used. Able to detect the odor, body heat, and vibrations of passing animals and humans, the six-legged larvae wait for a host to brush against their spot, quickly climbing aboard the host.
The larvae will then find a good place to feed, often in areas like the ears, underarms, and other places where the skin is thin.
Once the larvae has had its fill, the tick will drop off its host and molt, or shed its skin to become an eight-legged nymph. Then, the process repeats itself, as the newly molted nymph waits for a second host, often times looking for one larger than the first.
If they are successful in finding a second host, the eight-legged nymphs will again drop off their host to molt once more, and finally become an adult tick.
Adult ticks will then go on for a third quest, looking for an even larger host, often a deer or our beloved dogs. Successful adult ticks are then able to reproduce during the fall, with males dying off, and females surviving through the winter to lay more eggs by spring.
Length of Time a Tick Can Live Without a Host
While feeding on a blood host is essential for a tick’s development, some species of soft ticks can go several years without feeding off a host.
Hard ticks, however — and those who are most responsible for transmitting diseases — can only go a few months without a feeding. While the entire life cycle of a tick can take anywhere from a few months to several years to reach maturity, most ticks do not reach the adult stage because they cannot find a host.
If you want to learn more about the different types of ticks, check out our Pest Library for identification details, tips for prevention, removal and more.
And if you feel your home or backyard is especially susceptible to ticks, and would like take preventive action against these pests, learn about our Organic Tick Elimination Program