The adult Brown Dog Tick is pale reddish-brown around 3-5mm long. A fully engorged female Brown Dog Tick can be up to 12mm long. The colour alone cannot be relied upon for identification, the Brown Dog Tick does have an elongated body with a hexagonal basis capituli (see image below).
The tick larvae have 6 legs while the adults and nymphs have 8 legs with the head, neck and abdomen looking like one structure. Some people will report seeing baby ticks and large adult ticks, however this is generally just the difference between a gorged and unfed tick.
The tick life-cycle takes around 2 months depending on temperature and involves the tick feeding at every stage on a mammalian host whether it's a dog or a human. The Brown Dog Tick required 3 blood meals to complete development at the 3 stages after egg. Larva, Nymph and Adult.
The female needs to feed prior to reproducing and laying her eggs and depending on that blood meal will dictate how many eggs she lays. The feed can last up to a week and can result in up to 5000 eggs being laid at one time usually within 4 days of falling off the host. This is why infestations can explode very quickly into massive numbers of ticks. Survival rates of ticks is actually higher in cooler temperatures with higher relative humidity, but the development stages are much faster in warm humid climates. The female will gorge herself and then fall off the animal in an area that the dog frequents such as bedding or food zones so that she can lay her eggs where a ready food source will be available.
The female can continue to lay this batch of eggs for 15 days, she passes them over the top of her body, over the specialised porose areas near the basis capituli coating the eggs in a secretion that protects them from desiccating (drying out). Once the female has laid her eggs, her work finished, her eggs protected, she dies.
Once the eggs hatch (usually between 14-35 days) the larvae begin a behaviour called 'questing' to find a host to feed on immediately. This involves climbing on leaf litter or to a high place (including up walls) waving their forelegs back and forth in the hope of attaching to a host. This is different to fleas where the larvae will remain in the cracks and crevices and feed on Flea faces (dried blood) and other organic material. Some people think that removing the dog from an infested area will solve the issue however the larvae will feed on any mammal at this stage, including humans and can survive 3-5 months without feeding. Sometimes the whole lifecycle can involve 3 completely different hosts (not the same dog or animal). The larvae will feed for approximately 3-7 days and develop into nymphs.
The nymphs feed for 5-10 days and take about 14 days to fully develop into adults.
After the final nymph feed the tick is fully developed and go looking for a host to feed on. The female will gorge while the male will feed for short periods.
The Brown Dog Tick will infest anywhere where is has a reliable source of food to ensure development and reproduction. This includes domestic and commercial premises such as dog kennels and even pet shops or cafes where animals will frequent. If a female is attached when a dog is roaming, the female has the ability to drop off anywhere along the dog journey. This is why dogs allowed to roam neighbourhoods can pose a problem as normally uninfested homes may become infested simply because the gorged ready to lay eggs female may have dropped off along an external fenceline.
Ticks can survive up to 5 months without food in each stage of development but need to feed in order to pass from one stage to another. Ticks feed primarily on blood derived from the host.
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