Ticks are a major human health problem and transmit more dangerous diseases than almost any other creature (mosquitoes still have the top spot).
These parasitic bugs are widespread throughout the world, and there are hundreds of different species to watch out for. The life span of ticks varies between species, but they generally only live for around 6 months. Don’t be fooled, though – ticks are hardier than most people realize and can survive for long periods of time without food, in your house, and even underwater!
What are the most common tick species, and how long do they live?
There are hundreds of species of ticks, but some are considered more dangerous than others. Those that bite humans are a big problem in North America and are considered to be the most important disease vectors on the continent.
The most common and widespread tick species in North America include:
- Deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis): Average lifespan: Approximately 7 months
- Western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus): Average lifespan: Approximately 7.5 months
- Lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum): Average lifespan: Approximately 7 months
- American dog ticks (AKA Wood ticks) (Dermacentor variabilis): Average lifespan: Approximately 6 months
- Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus): Average lifespan: Approximately 6 months
- Rabbit tick (Haemaphysalis leporispalustris): Average lifespan: Approximately 7.5 months
- Pacific Coast tick (Dermacentor occidentalis): Average lifespan: 6.5 months
What diseases do ticks carry?
Ticks are major carriers of diseases. In fact, they’re second only to mosquitoes as transmitters of human illness. In the United States alone, ticks are responsible for causing:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF)
- Bourbon virus
- Colorado tick fever
- Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)
- Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF)
- Powassan disease
- Heartland virus
How long do ticks live on humans?
Keep in mind!
Once a tick has found you, they usually walk around for a while looking for a suitable place to feed. They prefer soft skin, so they usually end up in the groin, behind the ears, in the hairline or between folds of skin. Once there, they latch on and begin to feed.
The feeding process doesn’t hurt, so you may not notice that you have a tick on you (especially if it’s in a hard-to-see spot, like behind the ears). If left undisturbed, ticks can feed on humans for several days. When they’re finally full, they’ll drop off by themselves.
How long do ticks live on dogs and cats?
Ticks feed on cats and dogs in the same way they feed on humans. Once they’ve found a host, they’ll walk around until they find a good spot to latch on and feed, and will usually drop off after a few days.
How long do ticks live without a host?
Ticks feed on blood so, without a host, they won’t get to eat. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have much impact on how long they live, as it seems ticks don’t need to feed all that regularly. Reports of how long ticks can survive without a host vary widely, but some studies have suggested that they can live for up to 18 weeks without food!
How long can ticks live on clothing?
Ticks won’t live all that long on clothing, mainly because dry, indoor environments don’t suit them very well. They will usually die within 24 hours on dry clothing and 2-3 days on wet clothing.
How long can ticks live indoors?
Can ticks live indoors and, if so, for how long? The answer depends on what type of tick you’re dealing with, as different species require different types of habitat to survive. For example, blacklegged ticks like lots of humidity, and typically hang out in areas with dense vegetation (like forests). Therefore, they are unlikely to survive for more than 24 hours in your house.
Other species (like the lone star tick and the American dog tick) can survive in a wide variety of habitats and love warm, dry areas. These species could happily live out their entire life cycle in your house.
How long can a tick live in a car?
The dry environment inside your car can be a death-trap for ticks as some species, like the blacklegged tick, need moisture to survive. Ticks that require high humidity probably won’t last more than 24 hours in your vehicle, but other species are more resilient. The lone star tick and America dog tick, for example, can survive in a variety of different environments and may live for months in your car.
Fortunately, though a few species of tick may be able to survive for long periods in your house or car, they are unlikely to thrive there. They are far better adapted for life outdoors, so they’re not going to start rapidly breeding in your house and you probably won’t find your house overrun with them.
How long can a tick live underwater?
If you think you can get a tick off you by submerging it in water, guess again!
Ticks are more resilient than most people realize and can live for a scarily long time underwater.
They can’t actually breathe down there, but they can trap a thin layer of air in between the minuscule hairs that cover their bodies. By absorbing oxygen from this air supply, they can survive underwater for an incredible 15 days!
How to prevent tick bites this summer
- Wear insect repellent: Using a tick repellent when you venture outside is the most effective way to keep biting bugs away from you this summer. Formulations that contain insecticidal agents like DEET and picaridin are widely considered to be the most effective, though there are natural formulations that can also work well.
- Wear long, loose-fitting clothing: If they can’t access your skin, they can’t bite it! Cover up with long, loose-fitting clothes when you go into areas with lots of vegetation.
- Wash your clothes: If you venture into tick territory, make sure to change your clothes when you get home. These small bugs can easily hide in the folds of fabric, but they won’t survive there for long – especially if you wash them on high heat.
Most tick species live for around 6 months under normal conditions. However, these disease-carrying bugs are surprisingly resilient and can live for long periods of time under harsh conditions.
Some species can last for weeks without food, in your house, and even underwater! To prevent tick bites, you should always wear repellent when venturing out into nature, cover up with long, loose-fitting clothing, and check your skin carefully for bugs.