Ticks are small parasites that belong to the arachnid family. They can be identified as having eight legs and two claw-like appendages called palpi. Two of the most common tick species in California are Ixodes pacificus (commonly known as western black-legged or deer ticks) and Dermacentor occidentalis (Pacific Coast tick).
Both of these species live by attaching to their host---usually a mammal or bird---and feeding on their blood. All ticks have four life stages; egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. Larval ticks hatch with 3 pair of legs and acquire fourth pair after their first blood meal as they enter the nymph stage. Nymphs tend to be very small, live on the ground, and are difficult to detect. Incapable of jumping or flying, adult ticks exhibit a behavior known as “questing.” Questing ticks hold on to branches or grasses with their third and fourth pair of legs and stretch out their first pair of legs to attach to potential hosts passing by. These hardy, blood-sucking arachnids are active year-round (although activity increases after the first of the year) and prefer moist, warm locations.
Ticks don’t actually cause diseases themselves but can be vectors of various human and animal diseases in their nymph and adult forms. In California especially, deer ticks have been known to transmit Lyme disease, caused by a bacterium. Although most research reports that only a small percentage of ticks are infected with the disease, it is always important to check for and remove ticks from yourself and your pet after a hike. There are several important precautions that should be taken to protect you and others from tick bites and the infections they may carry:
- Wear long, light-colored pants and shirts that make locating ticks easier
- Stay in the middle of trails to avoid brushing against vegetation
- Check yourself and others periodically
- Always thoroughly inspect pets and brush them after a hike
With all this in mind, don’t let ticks prevent you from experiencing the beauty and serenity of the Puente Hills Preserve. Just stay aware, become educated, and be responsible while visiting the outdoors and enjoy!
For more information about ticks and Lyme disease transmission, visit http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/ or http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7485.html