Ticks are out in full force during the spring and summer months. They can be harmful to both humans and animals because they are able to spread serious illnesses. Ticks are parasites, which means they live and thrive by getting nutrients from feeding off of a host organism, often harming that host in the process. There are many myths surrounding ticks, especially when it comes to how long they can live. Some sources say ticks can live for 24 hours or one full day without a host, while others say they can live for up to two years without food. The truth is, both could be right, but it depends on the conditions, species of tick and the stage of their lifecycle.
Some tick species must feed right away in order to survive. Others are able to live for longer periods of time without feeding. Ticks are a three-host species, meaning they attach to a different host during each stage of their lifecycle – larvae, nymph and adult – so each different species of tick has different survival rates depending on what stage of life they are in.
Blacklegged ticks are also called deer ticks because they like white-tailed deer as their hosts when they are adult ticks. But when these ticks are in the larvae, or newborn/infancy stage, they normally feed once, usually June through September. If deer tick larvae do not feed during this time, they typically live less than one year. As nymphs, deer ticks feed during the summer. However, if nymphs do not feed during their first season, some can survive through two more seasons without a meal! Deer ticks typically become full adults during autumn, when they attach to a host and remain attached until the spring. However, if adults do not feed during that time, they can live for just under a year!
The American dog tick can survive for even longer than deer ticks! Unfed larvae are able to survive for up to 540 days, while unfed nymphs have been recorded to survive for up to 584 days! Even more impressive, unfed adult American dog ticks can go 2-3 years (up to 1,053 days) without food!
Adult female brown dog ticks lay 1,000-3,000 tiny, dark brown eggs at a time. Once these eggs hatch into larvae, they can survive for up to eight months without food or water. In the nymph stage of their lifespan, brown dog ticks can go three months without attaching to a host. Adult brown dog ticks typically attach to a dog to feed as soon as possible, but they can survive for up to 18 months without feeding!
Female lone star ticks lay an average of 3,000 – 5,000 eggs at a time. Once hatched, these larvae can go without a host for up to 279 days. Once lone star ticks mature from larvae to nymph, they can go over a year – up to 476 days – without feeding, and fully mature adult lone star ticks can go without a blood meal for up to 430 days!
Similar to the lone star tick, Rocky Mountain wood ticks lay around 3,000-5,000 eggs at a time on average. The eggs hatch in anywhere from 7-38 days, and once they do, the larvae typically attach to any nearby host. They usually need to find a host within 30 days, but some can go up to 117 days without attaching! Once Rocky Mountain wood ticks molt into nymphs, they are able to survive for over 300 days without food. As adults they are able to survive even longer without a host – up to 600 days!