When ticks bite horses, they can transmit a number of pathogens, including Borrelia burgdorferi, Theileria equi, Babesia caballi and Anaplasma phagocytophilum. And if tick bites aren't bad enough, the possibility of becoming infected with a disease such as Lyme disease or other bacterial infection should be enough to cause horse owners to take special care to check regularly for any signs of tick activity.
As if tick bites aren't bad enough, the possibility of becoming infected with a disease such as Lyme disease or other bacterial infection makes checking for ticks on horses a priority.
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Distribution and activity of each species of ticks in the U.S. is both geographical and seasonal. While most tick species in the U.S. are active in moderate climates from the spring through the fall, some tick species in warmer parts of the country can be active year round. Additionally, one tick in particular, Dermacentor albipictus, is active primarily in the winter throughout the continental U.S.
Four stages occur in the life cycle of the tick: the egg, the 6-legged larvae or seed tick, the 8-legged nymph, and the adult (male and female). Transition from one stage to the next is made by one or more moltings (shedding of the cuticle).
After hatching from eggs, ticks must ingest a blood meal from a host during each successive life stage to survive. Many tick species have a 3-host life cycle and some have a 1-host life cycle.In ticks with a 3-host life cycle, develop-ment of the tick from larvae to nymph to adult requires feeding on a different host at each stage (i.e. 3 different host species are needed to mature to adult stage).
The larva and nymphs of these ticks usually feed on a variety of host species, such as birds and small mammals, while the adult stages often feed on larger mammals such as cattle, horses, and deer. Three-host ticks typically can complete their life cycle in one to two years. Ticks with a 1-host life cycle will attach to a specific host in the larval stage and will molt into the nymph and adult stages all on the same host. One-host ticks can complete their life cycle in a few months to a year
Identification of tick species requires visual examination of specific morphology of the tick either with the unaided eye or under a magnifying lens.
Factors to consider during evaluation include lifecycle stage of the specimen, whether the tick is male or female, and characteristics of key anatomical features such as scutum, festoons, basis capituli, and palps.
Additionally, consideration of the common geographic distribution of certain tick species can aid the evaluator in correct species identification. The following link can be used to explore the distribution maps of common ticks in the U.S.: http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/geographic_distribution.htm.
When examining the tick for identification, it is recommended that you first determine the correct life stage of the specimen (egg, larvae, nymph or adult). If the specimen is an adult, you should next determine whether the tick is male or female.
Female ticks tend to be larger than males and the scutum, or hard shell, extends over the male’s entire back, but extends only one-third of the way down the female’s back.
Finally, evaluate the colors and morphology of the scutum and palps (mouth parts) to identify the distinctive species of tick. If you are unable to determine the species or want confirmation of your field identification, consider submission of the specimen to a laboratory with a qualified entomologist.
For more information about ticks and how they are threats to horse health visit AAEP's website: Ticks
Press release by AAEP