Hard vs Soft Ticks: What Is the Difference

folder_openArachnida, Ixodida
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Ticks are small, blood-sucking arthropods that belong to the class Arachnida.

They play a significant role in public health due to their ability to transmit various pathogens to humans and animals.

These pathogens can cause a range of diseases, some of which can be severe or even fatal.

Understanding the different types of ticks and their characteristics is crucial for prevention and control measures.

In this article, we will try to differentiate between hard and soft ticks clearly.

Hard vs Soft Ticks
Soft Tick

Hard vs Soft Ticks: Basic Morphological Differences

Hard Ticks (Ixodidae)

Hard ticks are easily recognizable by certain distinct features.

One of the primary characteristics is the presence of a scutum, which is a hard dorsal plate located behind the head.

This feature gives them their name, “hard ticks.” When observing a hard tick from a top view, its mouthparts, known as the capitulum, are clearly visible.

This is in contrast to soft ticks, where the mouthparts are hidden from the dorsal view.

Another notable aspect is that when hard ticks are engorged after a blood meal, they can sometimes resemble soft ticks due to the expansion of their body.

Common examples of hard ticks include the dog tick and the deer tick.

Soft Ticks (Argasidae)

Soft ticks differ considerably in appearance from hard ticks. They possess a leathery and flexible body that lacks the rigid scutum seen in hard ticks.

This gives them a more baggy or wrinkled appearance, especially when they are engorged.

When viewed from above, the mouthparts of soft ticks are not visible as they are positioned ventrally.

A common example of soft ticks is the Ornithodoros ticks, which are known vectors for the transmission of relapsing fever in humans.

By understanding these basic morphological differences, individuals can better identify and differentiate between hard and soft ticks, aiding in tick-borne disease prevention and control.

Hard Tick

Feeding Habits

Hard Ticks

Hard ticks are methodical when it comes to feeding. They are slow feeders, often taking a single blood meal that spans several days.

This prolonged feeding process is facilitated by a unique secretion known as attachment cement.

This cement allows the tick to maintain a firm grip on its host, ensuring that it isn’t easily dislodged during the feeding process.

Soft Ticks

In contrast, soft ticks exhibit a more sporadic feeding pattern. They are intermittent feeders, with nymphs and adult stages known to feed rapidly.

Unlike hard ticks, soft ticks do not produce attachment cement. This is largely due to their brief feeding sessions, which reduce the need for a prolonged attachment to the host.

Reproductive Differences

Hard Ticks

The reproductive cycle of hard ticks is quite straightforward. Once a female hard tick has mated, she will lay a single batch of eggs.

This is her sole reproductive event, after which she dies. An interesting aspect of hard tick reproduction is the emergence of eggs.

They emerge from a slit located dorsally on the tick’s body.

Soft tick

Soft Ticks

Soft ticks, on the other hand, have a more frequent reproductive cycle. A female soft tick will lay multiple batches of eggs, doing so after each feeding session.

This means that throughout her lifespan, a female soft tick will feed and reproduce multiple times.

When it comes to the emergence of eggs in soft ticks, they come out from an opening located on the ventral side of the tick’s body.

Habitat and Behavior

Hard Ticks

Hard ticks predominantly inhabit open environments. These environments can range from grasslands to forests, where they position themselves to latch onto passing hosts.

Their activity is highly influenced by climatic conditions, with a marked increase in activity during the warmer months.

This is primarily because warmth and humidity are conducive for their survival and reproduction. 

Soft Ticks

Soft ticks, in contrast, are more inclined to seek sheltered environments. They are commonly found in nests, caves, and burrows, which offer them protection from external elements.

Unlike hard ticks, soft ticks remain active throughout the year, irrespective of the season.

Their sheltered habitats provide a stable environment, allowing them to feed and reproduce without significant seasonal constraints.

Soft Tick, possibly American Dog Tick

Diseases Transmitted

Hard Ticks

Hard ticks are vectors for a variety of pathogens that can cause diseases in humans and animals.

Among the most notable diseases transmitted by hard ticks are Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as hard ticks are responsible for transmitting numerous other pathogens that can lead to various ailments.

Soft Ticks

Soft ticks are primarily associated with the transmission of Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF).

This disease is caused by the Borrelia bacteria, which the ticks acquire when feeding on infected hosts.

Once transmitted to humans, the bacteria can cause a range of symptoms, including recurring episodes of fever.

Prevention and Control

Preventing tick bites is the most effective way to reduce the risk of tick-borne diseases. Here are some key measures:

Avoiding Tick-infested Areas

Ticks thrive in certain environments, such as wooded areas, tall grasses, and places with abundant wildlife.

When possible, avoid these areas, especially during peak tick activity in warmer months.

If you must venture into such areas, stick to clear paths and avoid brushing against vegetation.

Beggar Ticks

Proper Removal of Ticks

If you find a tick on your body, it’s crucial to remove it promptly and correctly.

Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure.

Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

Avoid crushing the tick with your fingers, and refrain from using folk remedies like nail polish or petroleum jelly to remove ticks.

Proper removal minimizes the risk of disease transmission.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it normal for a tick bite to be hard?

A tick bite can sometimes result in a small, hard lump, especially if parts of the tick remain in the skin.

This lump might persist for a few weeks but should gradually diminish in size. If it doesn’t, or if other symptoms accompany it, seek medical attention.

What diseases do hard and soft ticks carry?

Hard ticks can transmit diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and several others.

Soft ticks are primarily known for transmitting Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) caused by Borrelia bacteria.

What is a soft tick?

A soft tick belongs to the family Argasidae and is characterized by its leathery and flexible body.

Unlike hard ticks, soft ticks do not have a scutum (dorsal plate), and their mouthparts are not visible from a dorsal view.

What does a hard tick do?

Hard ticks, belonging to the family Ixodidae, are ectoparasites that feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians.

They attach to their hosts using their mouthparts and can remain attached for several days, during which they can transmit various pathogens.

Tick

Conclusion

Ticks, both hard and soft, play a significant role in public health due to their ability to transmit various diseases to humans and animals.

While they share some similarities, the two types have distinct differences that set them apart. 

Hard ticks, with their visible mouthparts and protective scutum, are slow feeders that latch onto their hosts for extended periods.

Soft ticks, on the other hand, have a more leathery appearance without a scutum and are known for their rapid and intermittent feeding habits.

Awareness of these differences is crucial, not just for academic understanding but for practical reasons as well.

Recognizing the type of tick can provide insights into the potential diseases they might carry and the risks associated with their bites.

Moreover, understanding their habitats and behaviors can aid in avoiding tick-infested areas.

Awareness of their characteristics and habits, coupled with preventive measures, is our best defense against tick-borne diseases.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about ticks. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Singapore Thing

Subject: 9 legged bug
Location: Northen part of Singapore
December 10, 2015 11:35 pm
Hi, below are some important info:-
Date : 11 Dec 2015
Place : Singapore (Yishun estate)
Season: rainy
Bug found : on a wall in my house
Notes: presses it with my finger several times and it still alive and crawling.
My questions:
1. Is this a poisonous bug?
2. What precaution I should take?
3. Will it lay eggs?
4. What it feeds on?
Thank you.
Signature: Ken

Singapore Thing
Singapore Thing

Dear Ken,
Though you have attached three images, there is not enough detail in any of them to make an identification, so we are unable to answer your many questions.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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Tags: Ticks

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • I assume , this must be a species of hard-bodied ticks. It is very difficult to crush them by finger. It has 8 legs, the 9th one in the middle (as in the image pointing straight) must be the claws.
    Ticks are ectoparasites(external parasites), they live by sucking blood from animals (like dog). I am not sure of any human connection.
    Hope this information helps.

    Reply
  • I assume , this must be a species of hard-bodied ticks. It is very difficult to crush them by finger. It has 8 legs, the 9th one in the middle (as in the image pointing straight) must be the claws.
    Ticks are ectoparasites(external parasites), they live by sucking blood from animals (like dog). I am not sure of any human connection.
    Hope this information helps.

    Reply

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