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What Is a Hard Tick?

A hard tick is a tiny, blood-sucking arachnid with a tough, shield-like structure on its back, known as a scutum. These persistent parasites can transmit diseases like Lyme to both animals and humans. Intrigued by how these minuscule creatures can impact your health? Discover their secrets and learn how to protect yourself in our comprehensive guide.
Marlene de Wilde
Marlene de Wilde

There are two types of ticks. A hard tick is one with a hard shield just behind the mouthparts. When it has not been feeding, a hard tick looks like a flat seed. A soft tick does not have this hard shield and looks like a raisin. The former feed on dogs, deer and other medium to large mammals while the latter more commonly feed on birds and bats. Hard ticks have very noticeable mouthparts unlike soft ticks whose mouthparts are barely visible.

The scutum on the dorsal side of a hard tick is a hard, usually shiny, sclerotized plate which covers more of the male's body than the female. This enables the female to become more engorged with blood than the male. Males do not expand as much during the feeding process.

The brown dog tick is a type of hard tick.
The brown dog tick is a type of hard tick.

Ticks are arachnids, with adults having four pairs of legs and no antennae. They take several days to feed and are the most efficient carriers of disease as they suck blood slowly after attaching themselves firmly. They wait for host animals to brush by the grasses and shrubs they are in and climb on. They are unable to fly or jump so are capable of waiting for months in the vegetation until a potential host passes by.

Deer ticks are hard ticks with hard-shell bodies.
Deer ticks are hard ticks with hard-shell bodies.

Once on a host, the hard tick pierces the skin and starts to suck the blood. The host feels no pain or irritation and so the tick is able to stay in place for as long as it needs to. A female hard tick usually feeds for several days until she has dramatically increased her body weight. She then drops off, lays thousands of eggs and dies.

The male hard tick is not as interested in food as in finding a mate which is their main purpose in attaching themselves to a host animal. It may find it easier to feed on an engorged female hard tick than on the host. Soon after mating, the male dies.

Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.
Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.

Ticks are quite capable of attaching themselves to a human host and as they are major carriers of disease, care must be taken when walking through low bushy areas, abandoned buildings and caves. Ticks are small, so examining the body and clothes needs to done thoroughly. Pets should also be checked, especially its head and ears. Winter is the only season when ticks are not prevalent so in all other seasons, checking for ticks after walking in the woods or grassy areas is necessary.

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    • The brown dog tick is a type of hard tick.
      By: Carolina K Smith MD
      The brown dog tick is a type of hard tick.
    • Deer ticks are hard ticks with hard-shell bodies.
      By: epantha
      Deer ticks are hard ticks with hard-shell bodies.
    • Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.
      By: Viktor
      Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.