I thought I would kick off National Lyme Awareness Month by explaining the lifecycle of a tick. Once you understand this, you will understand why May is such an important month in the world of Lyme disease.
Ticks have four stages to their life cycle: egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. Adult female deer ticks lay eggs on the ground in the Spring.
In the summer, the eggs hatch into larvae. Deer tick larvae have six legs and can be as small as the period at the end of this sentence. The larvae find their first host – typically a bird or rodent – and live off its blood for several days. They then detach and fall back onto the ground.
In the ground, the well-fed larvae now molt into the next stage and are called nymphs. Nymphs have eight legs and are about the size of a poppy seed. They lay dormant for several months over the winter and become active again in the Spring as the weather warms up.
The nymph now finds its second host – a rodent, pet, or human – and feeds again. If the tick is carrying infectious agents ingested from its first feeding, it can now transmit these organisms to its next host. If it wasn’t previously infected, the tick can become so now, if it feeds on the right infected animal.
Once well fed, the nymph detaches and falls back to the ground. Here it molts and changes into an adult. Throughout the fall, both adult male and female ticks now find their third host – a rodent, deer, pet, or human – and feed on blood and mate.
Once well fed, both males and females fall back to the ground. The male now dies and the female lives through the winter and lays eggs in the spring, completing the cycle.