How Does a Tick Get On You and Burrow into Skin?


We’ve all been warned to watch out for ticks, but we rarely hear how a tick gets on your body. There are lots of myths surrounding ticks. They don’t fly, can’t jump and don’t fall down from trees. So How Do Ticks Get On Your Body?

Ticks wait in tall grass and thick vegetation for the first warm body to pass by. They wait with their limbs extended, grabbing onto the first animal/human that brushes up against them. At that point they crawl across the host’s body searching for open skin to sink their teeth into.

Why are ticks such a problem if they don’t actively hunt and feed? There are just so many of them that they’re impossible to avoid. So how can you avoid getting bit by ticks this summer? It all boils down to avoiding areas where ticks hunt and covering up your body.

How Do Ticks Get On Your Body?

We all have misconceptions about how ticks hunt for food. They don’t have to fly, jump, spin webs and they can’t fall down from above. Ticks are basically just dumb spiders. Almost all ticks use a behavior called “questing” to find a host.

Ticks use specialized “Hallers Organs” (located on their front legs) that sense heat and carbon dioxide to find their next blood meal. They just wait in tall grass, sniffing the air with their legs extended. The tick will latch onto the first animal that walks by.

How Ticks Get On You

You can’t completely avoid ticks. Go into the woods during the summer and you’re bound to walk past a few ticks. That doesn’t mean they will be able to grab onto you.

Ticks sense movement, heat and carbon dioxide. So there’s really no way to avoid them. Even a well groomed hiker will draw in ticks.

There are four main ways to avoid ticks. Avoid going into the wilderness and hiking through tall grass, shrubs, etc. Wear long sleeves/pants, boots, socks. Use products that contain DEET to deter ticks and other insects (OFF! Deep Woods is the best). Check your body for ticks once you get home.

Avoiding Ticks

As an outdoorsman there’s really no way to avoid areas with tall grass and shrubbery. Ticks understand that both humans and animals use walkways, so that’s where they hang out and wait for a blood meal.

Like I said above there’s no way to avoid ticks completely, but you should still spray yourself down with bug spray. Don’t even bother with natural products. You need a bug spray like OFF Deep Woods that contains DEET.

Covering up your skin is the next step. Once a tick latches onto your body it will crawl around looking for exposed skin. Wearing long pants/sleeves both reduces the chance of getting bit and makes it easier to check for ticks. That’s why you need to check for ticks when you get home.

Inspecting Your Body For Ticks

Inspecting your body for ticks is extremely important. Take a quick look where ever you have exposed skin. Pay special attention to your waistline, ankles, neck, hairline, behind ears, and edge of shirt sleeve.

Strip down and take a shower once you get home. Ticks can wash off in the shower if they haven’t fully latched on. Plus it will be easier to fully check your body without clothes.

What If I Find a Tick?

Finding a tick isn’t the end of the world. In scientific studies only 1.2-1.4 percent of bites will result in lyme disease. Out of millions of estimated tick bites, there are approximately 30,000 confirmed cases (per year) in the United States.

What if I find a tick bite? Catching a tick bite early will reduce your risk of being infected with tick-borne pathogens. It usually takes 2-3 hours for a tick to burrow and they only release disease at the end of feeding.

So the sooner you find a tick the less chance you have of catching Lyme disease. Just knock off any tick that hasn’t started to burrow. You’ll need a pair of tweezers once he bites.

Take your tweezers and firmly grasp the body of the tick without squeezing. Grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull upward with steady pressure and try not to twist or jerk. Watch the video above for more information.

Wash the bite area with soap/water after removing the tick. Follow that up with rubbing alcohol if available. In the following 2-3 weeks check for a rash and signs of infection.

What If I Can’t Get Everything Out?

It’s hard to get a tick out after it’s mouth is fully burrowed into your skin. They have barbed teeth that kind of look like fishing hooks. As you pull the teeth dig deeper into your skin and often break off.

Leaving a piece of the tick in your skin isn’t that big of a deal since it won’t transmit disease. It’s like a wood splinter that will eventually work its way out. Wash the area, use antibiotic ointment and keep an eye out for infection.

Disease carrying pathogens are stored in the blood and can’t be transmitted once the tick’s body is no longer attached. Think about the way disease spreads between drug addicts sharing a needle.

Every time a tick feeds it transmits disease from the previous host. Ticks feed on just about every animal in North America. It could be a deer, racoon, fox, skunk, bear, etc.

Don’t Try Other Methods

Using tweezers is the only CDC recommended way to remove a tick. You can use a knife in a pinch, but it’s not as effective.

Don’t even bother with other methods like using Vaseline or soft soap to smother the tick. Burning the tick might work to remove him, but you increase the risk of infection.

Ticks Fall Off On Their Own

Most people don’t even realize they’ve been bitten by a tick. Ticks release antiseptic numbing agents so you can’t feel them as they feed. That swollen rash you thought was a spider bite might have actually been a tick (they are technically arachnids).

It takes 2-3 days (sometimes longer) for a tick to finish feeding and fall off on its own. You only realize you’ve been bitten after developing an itchy rash.

After falling off the tick will either find another host or lay eggs and die. Ticks can lay eggs in carpet, but they usually make their way back outside.

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