What Is a Rocky Mountain Wood Tick?

Anna Harrison

The Rocky Mountain wood tick is a small, spider-like pest that is found not only in the Rocky Mountains of the United States, but also throughout southwestern Canada. It lives in underbrush and dense grassy areas where it can easily attach to animals or humans that pass by in order to feed on their blood. Among the most harmful tick species, it can carry and transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other diseases. Removing a tick can be difficult once it has imbedded itself and must be done slowly to prevent the tick from breaking.

Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.
Depending on their sex and type, ticks can expand to different sizes -- as big as a grape or as small as an apple seed -- when feeding on blood.

Recognizing a Rocky Mountain wood tick is not easy as it is very tiny and looks much like any other type of tick. It has a hard, shiny, black and tan body and is virtually impossible to kill by squashing or squeezing. A tick is a vector, meaning that it can transmit disease to humans and animals. This type of tick has been found to carry not only Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but also tularemia, Colorado tick fever, and tick paralysis.

The Rocky Mountain wood tick can be found in the Rocky Mountains and California.
The Rocky Mountain wood tick can be found in the Rocky Mountains and California.

The Rocky Mountain wood tick can attach itself to a host by excreting a thick concrete-like material near its mouth that is then inserted into the skin. It is this hard substance that makes a tick so difficult to remove. Often the body gets broken off, leaving the imbedded head behind. This often leads to infection and scarring.

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A tick can be removed by firmly grasping the head with a pair of tweezers, and then turning it over slowly until the tick is freed. There is also a small measuring-spoon-shaped tool with a tiny v-shaped slot on the end that is available at veterinarian's offices and pet stores. It is very inexpensive and makes tick removal much easier. Once the tick is removed, the affected area should be washed thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water.

These types of ticks need to feed three times during their entire life cycle. This means they must attach themselves to three different hosts. The first feeding stage lasts anywhere from a few days to 17, when the ticks mate and the female detaches to lay her eggs. She will lay as many as 5,500 eggs in the following 10 to 33 days. The eggs may take over a month to hatch, or may emerge in as little as a week in warmer temperatures.

The newly-hatched larvae will immediately look for a food source, and, upon locating one, will eat for the next several days. Once it is engorged with blood, it will again remove itself while it spends the next two weeks growing into an adult tick. This cycle can take from one to three years to complete, depending on available food sources and environmental conditions. Once in the adult stage, the Rocky Mountain wood tick can survive for well over a year without food.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever, spread by ticks from the Rickettsia genus, can be life-threatening.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever, spread by ticks from the Rickettsia genus, can be life-threatening.

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