What is a Tick?

Ticks are ectoparasitic mites that require blood meals from vertebrate hosts for development. In Canada, the most common ticks are of the family Ixodidae, commonly referred to as “hard ticks”. These ticks have four stages in their life cycle (egg, larva, nymph, and adult) and often exhibit a three-host life cycle.

The life cycle of most ticks is long and complex. For example, for the very common American dog tick, females lay their eggs in leaf litter in late spring. Six-legged larvae hatch from the eggs during the summer and become dormant for the winter. The following spring, the larvae attach to a small mammal or bird host to feed from. Once fully engorged, the larvae will drop off the host and molt to become eight-legged nymphs. These nymphs will search for a new host during the summer, typically another small mammal but sometimes larger animals including pets and people. The processes of feeding, leaving the host, and molting are repeated resulting in a fully developed adult tick. The adults will be dormant over the winter and emerge in the spring, when they can occasionally be seen perching at the tips of low-lying shrubs and long grasses, waving their forelegs. This host-seeking behaviour is referred to as questing. Adult ticks tend to encounter larger mammalian hosts. Preferred hosts are thought to be wild ca nids but deer, bears, skunks and other wildlife may also serve as hosts. Domestic animals, including livestock, and people are also valid candidates to serve as hosts for adult ticks. Once the adults have fed and mating has occurred, the ticks will lay eggs that may number in the thousands, completing the life cycle.

In North America, hard ticks are considered important vectors of both medical and veterinary pathogens. Although ticks may be abundant in an area, it is important to understand that not every tick in a population is infected, and those that are infected usually need to feed for many hours before the infectious agents are transmitted. Also, pathogens that are spread by one species of tick may not be spread by other species. For this reason, accurate identification of tick species is required.

Ticks in Manitoba

Ixodes tick

Ticks are just a fact of life here in Manitoba; they come with spring, just like pollen and allergies. Although there are approximately forty species of ticks found in Canada, Manitobans are most likely to encounter two. The first is the American dog tick, also known as the wood tick (scientific name, Dermacentor variabilis). The other species is the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick (scientific name, Ixodes scapularis). Although both of these species have established populations in the province, the American dog tick is far more abundant and has a distribution that stretches further north than the blacklegged tick. Of these two species, in Manitoba, only the blacklegged tick is of medical importance. The blacklegged tick is a known vector of Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, along with microbes that cause human granulocytic anaplasmosis and babesiosis. In Manitoba, the occurr ence of both the tick and these pathogens is still relatively rare; however, surveillance programs are in place to monitor their presence.

  • Tick identification page
  • Prevention and Additional Information

    The best way to prevent being bitten by a tick is to not enter their environment. Unfortunately, this would prevent us from enjoying some of Manitoba’s most beautiful localities and enjoying our already all too short summers. Fortunately, there are some precautions we can take to allow us to venture into the great outdoors. Although it may not be the most fashionable approach, wearing pants tucked into socks and long sleeved shirts tucked in at the waist will offer a first line of defense against ticks (you could wear gaiters over your tucked-in pants and look like a pro hiker). Light coloured clothing will make the ticks more visible, allowing you to remove them before they get attached. Additionally, applying a DEET based insect repellent may make you less desirable to ticks. Perhaps the most efficient prevention method is to thoroughly check yourself, your family and your pets for ticks at the end of any outdoor excursion, keeping in mind that ticks tend to feed in places where they have a low probability of being seen.

    For those who live in more rural areas, it is also possible to make your property less appealing for ticks. Making the perimeter of your yard less friendly to rodent by keeping grasses short will help. Use of cedar chips in flowerbeds and shrubberies can repel ticks along with other pests. Finally, daily grooming of outdoor pets or use of a pet friendly insecticide treatment will prevent your four-legged friends from bringing home some unwanted guests.

    It takes a significant amount of time for pathogens to be transmitted by feeding ticks, so if you encounter a tick that is attached to you or your pet you should promptly remove it. Removing ticks should only be done using a pair of tweezers or perhaps your fingers. Grasping the tick at the base of the skin and gently pulling it away without twisting or yanking is the most effective method. Treating the bite with an antiseptic as you would any scrape or cut will promote healing. It is a good idea to note the site of the tick bite and when you discovered the tick. If serious discomfort or a rash occurs, this information will assist your doctor in determining what treatment options to pursue. Do not use fire, grease, irritants, pesticides or other ointments to remove ticks. These methods are ineffective at removing the tick, could cause secondary infections and may result in part of the tick remaining in the bite site.

    Tick Submission

    Manitobans can submit blacklegged ticks as part of the Blacklegged Tick Surveillance Program led by Manitoba Health in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada. Individuals are encouraged to submit ticks during the fall surveillance campaign. A submission form is required to accompany all tick submissions and must include the following details: name, address, phone number, e-mail address, information about when and on whom the tick was found, as well as any recent travel activity. Submitted ticks will be identified to species and blacklegged ticks will be tested for Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria causing Lyme disease), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (the bacteria causing human granulocytic anaplasmosis), and Babesia microti (the agent of human babesiosis) at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. Information regarding the ticks and pathogens collected during this campaign will assist in research and risk assessment studies. Individuals will be notified of the type of tick and provided a tracking number shortly after submission. Unless specifically requested, results will only be communicated by e-mail. Results are intended for surveillance purposes only and are not meant to assist with diagnosis or treatment of tick-borne diseases.

    Tick submission form

    Tick submission guidelines:

  • Live ticks should be placed in a small container with a moistened piece of tissue paper.
  • Physicians and veterinarians need to provide their email address if they want a copy of the results.
  • Dead ticks do not need to be submitted in a fixative like formalin or alcohol.

  • Ticks, and the completed submission form should be mailed to:
    Passive Blacklegged Tick Surveillance Program
    Cadham Provincial Laboratory
    P.O. Box 8450
    750 William Avenue
    Winnipeg Manitoba, R3C 3Y1