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Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Brown Dog Tick

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Brown Dog Ticks are parasites that mainly feed off dogs and may make them sick, especially if the animal is infested.

Updated: 01/02/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Ticks cannot fly. They do not have wings. They cannot jump either. Their eight appendages can hook and grab objects that brush past them, and they ferociously cling to them. Dog hair, clothing, and even bare skin are all surfaces that they can latch on to. They cannot be shaken off; they must be picked off of a surface. If embedded, tweezers are necessary to remove them to ensure the entire head and mouthparts are pulled out of the flesh. They usually roam on the body surface before settling on a suitable bite site. Sometimes they fall off the host before finding a bite site. They have months of patience, however, and will wait for a host on blades of grass, plant leaves, or other perches.

A nuisance to dog kennels, Brown Dog Ticks can live their entire lives indoors, feeding off dogs in confinement and reproducing at will if not controlled by owner/operators. Ticks are able to live up to five months without a feeding in each life stage. A larva (newly hatched), nymph (juvenile) and adult need only one blood meal to continue development or reproduction. At each age, a different host is typical, but in homes, usually the same dog nourishes the tick throughout its life. Their presence can go undetected thanks to their small size and coloring. Female Dog Ticks mate while feeding on the dog and then drop from the host to lay hundreds to thousands of fertilized eggs in cracks and crevices to hide them. The larvae have only 6 legs at this point and are as tiny as seeds (sometimes they are called 'seed ticks'). After a blood meal, ticks at every age go from flat to fat. The blood meal is stored inside their flexible bodies, allowing them to expand like balloons when they are engorged. This changes their appearance so drastically that people often mistake full ticks for different insects.

With so many potentially viable larvae in a boarding kennel, it does not take long for an infestation to develop if dog hosts are available and the temperature is comfortable. A Brown Dog Tick infestation can cripple a canine business and is the reason why tick guards (like collars or edible chews) are standard protocol at shelters and pet hotels. Brown Dog Ticks can transmit illnesses to dogs that result in fever, lameness, or anemia. Stopping a tick from feeding in the first place is the best way to eliminate problems with them. There are a variety of tick prevention measures that exist to kill a tick before getting a blood meal. Checking a dog after it spends time outside can also help in heading off any problems with ticks. Feel along a dog's back, look in its ears, and around the neck and legs for unusual bumps, but also check between the toes, in its armpits, and in thigh crevices. These are warmer areas on the dog's body, and heat attracts ticks looking for warm blood.

Brown Dog Ticks have occasionally been found on deer and rodents, but they truly seem to prefer dogs for some unknown reason. They rarely bite humans and are not known to carry Lyme disease. While human bites from this tick are rare, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 determined cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever rickettsia in people resulted from contact with this species of tick in two communities in Arizona. The affected humans had close contact with tick infested dogs and many ticks were found inside their homes. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever ricksettsia is commonly seen in dogs that are exposed to multiple Brown Dog Tick bites; it is rarer that people contract this illness from this tick because bite exposure is typically low, but it is possible. Dogs do not pass it on to people, but many ticks on an infested dog may change hosts. The greater the number of Brown Dog Tick bites a person gets in communities known to have an abundance of infected ticks, the greater the likelihood of developing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Tick presence on a dog may cause the animal discomfort, especially if there are a lot of them. Removing ticks can be done by a veterinarian, who can then monitor the dog for any signs of subsequent illness. An infestation on a dog may require a stay in the vet clinic or repeated treatments for illness caused by vectors passed into the dog's bloodstream by the ticks. An infestation inside a home may require a professional exterminator.

References: University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology, Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, and FDACS by C.C. Lord; Michigan State University Diagnostic Services; New England Journal of Medicine, 11 August 2005©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
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Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Acari
        Family: Parasitiformes
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          Genus: Rhipicephalus
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            Species: sanguineus

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Rhipicephalus sanguineus
Category: Mite or Tick
Size (Adult; Length): 1mm to 4mm (0.03" to 0.15")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; black
Descriptors: flat; eight; hooks; plump; speckled; biting; harmful

Brown-Dog-Tick Video(s)

A large, flat Brown Dog Tick walking along the wall.

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 1mm (0.0in) and 4mm (0.2in)
Lo: 1mm
Md: 2.5mm
Hi: 4mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Brown Dog Tick may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Brown Dog Tick. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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