Arachnida / Acarina

What are Ticks? How do I get rid of them?

Ticks are small parasitic animals which feed on the blood of animals and humans. In New Zealand, there are approximately nine native tick species, none of which feed on humans. However, the Cattle Tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) - an introduced species to New Zealand - is known for feeding on humans.

Fortunately, the really serious diseases ticks are known to transmit overseas aren't present in New Zealand. While being subject to a tick bite may be an uncomfortable and disturbing experience for people, there have been no known cases in New Zealand of ticks transmitting infectious diseases to humans.

Animals usually targeted by ticks include cattle (ticks can transmit the cattle disease Theileria), sheep, deer, pigs, horses and birds; generally the smaller the animal is, the greater the hazard from tick infestations. Pets (dogs, cats and rabbits) are vulnerable to ticks as they are more likely to be in environments inhabited by ticks. Tick bites on pets can cause severe discomfort, skin rashes and anaemia.

To protect ourselves, children and pets, it’s important to control, prevent and monitor for ticks in the garden and in the home.


There are two different types of ticks: soft ticks from the family Argasidae and hard ticks from the family Ixodidae. As the Cattle Tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) is a hard tick and the only tick species of concern in New Zealand, only hard ticks will be further described.

Depending on the age and species, ticks vary in size from less than 1mm and up to 5mm in length. Ticks come in a variety of colours, mostly in shades of browns, reds and yellow. After becoming engorged on blood, the rear section can change colour to white, grey or green-grey.

The body of the tick (idiosoma) is fused and compromises the head and thorax (prosoma); and the abdomen (opisthosoma). The body is shiny, flattened and round, similar to a fingernail. On the upper surface and front region of the body is a rounded plate (scutum) which may partially or completely cover the entire body region. On either side of the scutum are a pair of inconspicuous simple eyes.

Attached to the underside and front region of the body are 4 pairs of legs which are highly flexible and are often seen articulated inwards in the shape of a hook. The legs are often covered in spines to aid in holding on to the host. Ticks cannot jump, however are great at walking, climbing, grasping and falling.

Ticks don't have wings or antennae.

At the front of the body are mouthparts and other appendages (capitulum/gnathosoma). The mouthparts consist of: a central harpoon-like structure (hypostome) with backward facing barbs (denticles) along the shaft; a pair of saw-like appendages (chelicerae); and a pair of finger-like appendages (palps).


Once a tick has found a suitable feeding site on a host animal, the tick uses its chelicerae to saw the host’s skin, before it inserts the hypostome. During feeding, the hypostome sucks out blood and delivers saliva. Saliva may contain anti-coagulants, anti-inflammatory, neurotoxins (paralysis causing protein), ‘glue’ and various other chemicals. Because the hypostome is barbed and secretes a glue-like substance, the tick can feed without the need of hanging on, sometimes for up to two weeks. After engorging themselves on blood, ticks can increase in weight up to 120 times their original body weight. Ticks can survive for many months without food, while some species can survive for many years. Some ticks only feed 3-4 times in their lifetime. Adult male ticks do not feed directly on a host, rather they feed on the engorged body of an adult female.

On humans, ticks are commonly found in the navel/bellybutton, groin, scalp, in head and body hair, behind and in ears, behind the knee and in armpits. On pets, like cats and dogs, ticks may be found under the collar, inside ears, along gum line and between toes. However, ticks can be found anywhere on the body of humans or pets.

Ticks are attracted to heat, moisture and various other chemicals.


After feeding and mating on a host, females fall off the host, lay eggs and subsequently die. One female can lay up to several thousand eggs at a time. Eggs are often laid in leaf litter; in the soil; and on areas of dense foliage such as long grass or bushy shrubs.

Tick eggs hatch into 6 legged larvae (a seed-tick). After feeding and shedding skin (moulting), seed-ticks develop into 8 legged nymphs. Nymphs are similar in appearance to adults, only smaller. After feeding and moulting, nymphs develop into sexually mature adults.

Most of the tick lifecycle is spent in the immature stage and off the host. While not on a host, ticks can be found in areas that are moist and cool, as ticks are highly prone to drying out. Ticks generally live for 1-3 years, however, some species can live much longer.


Ticks feed on the blood of animals and humans.

Ticks prefer cool, moist and humid environments. Ticks are mostly active during the warmer months, however, can be found at anytime of year.

In outdoor areas, ticks can be found:

  • In long grass, up to 50 cm high
  • In the lawn
  • In dense shrubs (ticks are known to climb and wait for a warm host to grab onto as they brush past)
  • In leaf litter and mulch
  • In and near bush areas
  • Especially in pasture land and on farms


Best Treatment for Ticks

Once ticks have been identified and first aid administered, control juvenile ticks in spring by applying Blitzem! Ant, Flea & Tick Killer. Pour the easy-to-apply sand formulation onto the entire area of soil and leaf litter where juvenile ticks are known to inhabit. Ticks may be reintroduced from surrounding areas by host animals. Reapply as necessary. Most of a tick’s life (>90%) is spent in these areas, so applying Blitzem! Ant, Flea & Tick Killer is a great way of protecting your family and pets from future bites.

Wash all infested items in the washing machine on a hot cycle. To dry, place item in the dryer for at least 30 minutes, or hang outside on a hot, dry and sunny day.

First Aid for humans:

  • Check yourself and especially children for ticks.
  • Avoid scratching them.
  • Remove the tick as soon as it has been detected.
  • If known to be allergic, avoid removing the tick yourself and seek medical assistance. Do not leave the patient alone. Call 111 for emergency medical assistance if an allergic reaction is observed.
  • To remove the tick, use a pair of pointy-nosed tweezers (or forceps). Firmly, yet gently, hold the tick as close to the skin as possible and slowly use an upwards motion to remove. Do not bend or twist while pulling as this may result in the head being broken off. Do not apply products to the tick prior to removal unless the product is registered for tick removal, or otherwise directed by a medical professional.
  • In the event of unsuccessful removal where the head of the tick remains in the skin, seek medical assistance for removal and further treatment. Otherwise, infection may result.
  • Once the tick has been removed, kill it by squashing between two sheets of paper towel, place into a plastic sealed bag, then put into the rubbish bin.
  • Monitor patient for allergy symptoms and seek medical assistance if symptoms appear and/or linger. 

First aid for pets:

  • If a tick has been detected on a pet, remove tick as soon as possible (see above method of removal).
  • You can also cover the tick liberally with Vaseline, which will suffocate it so it drops off.
  • Apply a flea treatment to your pet, and/or take advice from your Veterinarian for treatment. 
  • Remove pet bedding and wash in the washing machine with hot water, then place in the dryer on hot for 30 minutes.
  • Vacuum dog kennel and place the vacuum bag into a plastic bag, seal well, then put in the rubbish bin. Move kennel out into the sun to help the kennel to warm up and dry out. This will help to dry out any remaining ticks. 


Symptoms of Tick infestation

Tick infestation can't be identified based on bite symptoms alone. Bites are nearly indistinguishable from other pest bites, like Bed Bugs, Fleas, Mosquitoes, Spiders and Lice.

Further evidence of tick infestation includes:

  • Living adult ticks - adults may be small or become about the size of a grape after being engorged on blood. Adults are found either on or off the host.
  • Living juvenile ticks - may be as small as a dot. Use a magnifying glass to detect immature stages.
  • Faeces - tiny dots or smear on host’s skin.
  • Eggs - round to oval shaped balls, generally less than 0.3 mm in length and are laid in big clusters. Eggs come in a variety of colours including blacks, browns, reds and greens. Eggs are most often found in the soil and underneath leaf litter.

Symptoms of a tick bite in humans may include:

  • At the site of bite may be redness, swelling, welt or a red ring
  • Rash
  • Itchiness
  • Dermatitis
  • Symptoms such as swollen throat or difficulty breathing may indicate an allergic reaction. Call 111 immediately for urgent medical assistance.

Symptoms of a tick bite in pets may include:

  • At the site of bite may be redness, swelling, welt or a red ring
  • Scratching
  • Lack of energy
  • Most adult ticks will be concentrated around the ears, head and neck against the skin - you'll need to part your pets fur to find them

How to protect your family and pets

  • Check pets for ticks regularly.
  • Protect your pets from ticks using veterinary approved tick preventative products such as sprays, collars, shampoos, rinses and medication. Contact your local vet for further information.
  • For animals which can be shaved, keep hair/fur relatively short, as this will aid in the early and quick detection of ticks.
  • Wash bedding regularly. Remove bedding and wash in the washing machine with hot water, then place in the dryer on hot for 30 minutes.
  • Vacuum inside kennels regularly.
  • Ensure dog kennel is a position that is dry and well ventilated and away from vegetation.
  • To stop the spread of ticks, do not allow the pet to go near other animals until the pet has been cleared of infection. Avoid having infected pets inside the home.

Recommended products

Blitzem! Ant, Flea & Tick Killer

Sand formulation which provides a barrier on outdoor surfaces, controlling ants before they get inside the house. Ideal for paths & pavers.

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