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Ticks are a dangerous year-round bloodsucker that you need to beware of. Ticks can be recognized by a variety of characteristics, of which the blood-filled body is probably the clearest. While the animals are very easy to recognize after their blood meal, the nymphs or thirsty specimens can quickly be confused with other animals that have tick-like characteristics.
Before learning about the individual beetles, insects, and other arachnids that you may confuse species of the order Ixodida with, you need to understand the typical characteristics of ectoparasites. Tick-like animals can be found all over the world and even in the local latitudes you can encounter creatures that resemble, for example, the native wood tick (Ixodes ricinus) or the sheep tick (Dermacentor marginatus). In order to clarify what a tick really looks like, you will find a list of the most important characteristics below:
- Size: 2.5 to 6 mm depending on species and sex
- 4 pairs of legs with 2 legs each
- Multi-jointed legs
- Barbs at the leg ends
- front pair of legs bent at an angle
- clearly recognizable mouthparts
- swollen body the size of a pea after a blood meal
It gets more difficult with the colors of the arachnids. Since each species has a different coloration or even pattern, you shouldn't be guided by the hue. It is typical that ticks are particularly noticeable on light clothing or skin due to their small size and mostly dark colors. In addition, the shield in female ticks (Ixodidae) is not as intense as in females, as this would prevent the abdomen from swelling after the blood meal. The color of the swollen body, on the other hand, is much lighter and ranges from pink to gray. The animals can be recognized immediately by this.
tip: In contrast to the adults, tick nymphs do not have four but three pairs of legs, since the last pair of legs is formed only with the transition to adulthood. Since the nymphs also suck blood, you must also avoid them, even if this makes it much more difficult to distinguish them.
There are numerous insects that are very similar to ticks. There is a particularly high risk of confusion with the following specimens.
Ticks are arachnids and for this reason it is very common for some of the species within the order to be confused with one another. Above all, the physique and the number of legs are to be mentioned here, since four pairs of legs are also formed here, which clearly indicate the order. The animals are often confused with mites and very small spiders, since the body structure is reminiscent of the tick. There are just three types to be mentioned here, which have several points in common:
- are often encountered
- stay close to people
- quite small
The arachnids, like the beetles and insects below, are characterized by the development of habitats that are in direct proximity to humans. Since ticks are also spreading more and more and even getting into the home garden, the likelihood of confusion with one of the following arachnids is possible:
The pseudoscorpions (Pseudoscorpiones) are arachnids that are very reminiscent of scorpions. They lack a venom sting as their venom glands are in their claws. Despite the claws, pseudoscorpions pose no danger to humans because they are not strong enough to penetrate the skin. At first glance, the physique with the large abdomen and four pairs of legs may resemble ticks, but once you spot the claws, you can rest easy. The most common are the brown book scorpion (Chelifer cancroides) with a length of up to 4.5 millimeters and the black moss scorpion (Neobisium) which can be up to four millimeters long.
Red velvet mite
Red velvet mites (Trombidium holosericeum) are also tick-like animals, as they also belong to the subclass of mites (Acari). They reach sizes of up to four millimeters and have mouth parts that at first glance resemble those of a tick, but actually look like those of a spider. However, the animals are so small that you would first have to pick them up and examine them. The biggest difference to the tick is the hair in scarlet red, which runs over the entire body and has a velvety character. So as soon as you spot a scarlet tick, it's probably the velvet mite, which also likes to appear in groups.
Autumn or grass mites (Neotrombicula autumnalis) appear from mid-July to late October. They also look very similar to ticks and, like the velvet mite, are red in color, just not as intense. Its shape is even more reminiscent of that of the tick, but the autumn mite is somewhat rounder and slightly hairy. The maximum size of up to two millimeters in particular makes it easier to distinguish them from ticks. Grass mites can also bite and are a plague, especially in southern Germany, as their bites leave itchy pustules.
notice: Many spiders can be mistaken for a tick at first glance, especially when it comes to young animals. These are significantly smaller than the adult specimens and look confusingly similar to numerous tick species, which is difficult for the layperson to distinguish.
Beetles also represent a frequent risk of confusion. Above all, the small beetle species should be mentioned here, as they have tick-like properties due to their small size, which makes them look like the unpleasant bloodsuckers from the forest at first glance. Of course, the biggest difference to beetles and ticks are the wings, which all species within the order Coleoptera have. For this reason, you should always check whether the tick-like animals can fly or have elytra. They also have antennae, which can often be confused with a pair of legs. The following three types can be mentioned here:
Of all the beetle species, the weevil (Curculionidae) resembles the tick the most. This is mainly due to the dark coloring of some species and their physique, which often ends in a large abdomen. In addition, the individual antennae are widely spread, which is immediately reminiscent of a tick, especially in the tiny species of the family. Since they also often appear in gardens and forests, confusion can occur very quickly. The beetles are easy to distinguish by their size of eight to 13 millimeters (typical size for Central European species), a proboscis and antennae.
When you encounter a brass beetle (Niptus hololeucus), the color will be the first thing you will notice. You can tell the 2.5 to 4.5 millimeter large animal from the bloodsucker by looking at this alone, as this is shiny brass. The animals are often confused because of their body, which is slightly reminiscent of a spider and thus has tick-like properties. Compared to ticks, beetles have long antennae and an abdomen that is not as flat.
Spherical beetles (Sphaeriusidae) can only be mistaken for a tick from above, but from the side they are clearly different creatures. They reach maximum sizes of up to 1.2 mm and are therefore significantly smaller. Above all, the arrangement of the hind legs and antennae ensures the risk of confusion. Spherical beetles are mainly found in buildings.
In addition to the beetles and arachnids already mentioned, there are other insects that can be confused with ticks. These also have a strong resemblance to the bloodsuckers, but some of these usually only accidentally get close to humans, while the others are just as parasitic as Ixodida. However, these species can be clearly distinguished from the tick on closer inspection:
deer louse fly
The deer louse fly (Lipoptena cervi) or just deer louse is also a bloodsucker that is found primarily in forests rich in wildlife. They grow up to six millimeters in size and have wings that they shed after piercing the skin. Without the wings, the deer aphid resembles ticks for a brief moment, until the three pairs of legs and large compound eyes become noticeable. Likewise, the brownish color is sometimes misleading. Caution: Deer lice also bite people, especially in the neck area.
Because of their small size and flat shape, tree lice (Lachnidae) can easily be mistaken for a tick. Above all, types in brown or black should be mentioned here, as they immediately catch the eye on the skin or clothing. Tree lice pose no danger to you at all, as the insects only choose trees as hosts. Count the pairs of legs here as well, it should be three to be on the safe side. In addition, the legs are usually much longer.
In rare cases, a single bed bug (Cimex lectularius) can look like a tick. Hungry bed bugs, in particular, resemble ticks in shape, but once they've ingested a meal, it looks like a bug. If you have a bed bug infestation, you should act immediately, as the insects pose a serious risk to your health.