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Residents of the northeast have good reason to be concerned about the abundance of disease-carrying ticks in the region. The vast majority of lyme, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and most other tick-borne diseases occur in the northeast. Not long ago, the lone star tick invaded the northeastern states where it has transmitted diseases to numerous residents in the region. When people discuss the public health threat posed by ticks, they are most likely referring to ticks belonging to the Ixodidae family, more commonly referred to as “hard ticks.” However, there are actually two major diseases-carrying tick families in the United States. In addition to “hard” Ixodidae ticks, ticks belonging to the Argasidae family also spread disease, and they are commonly referred to as “soft ticks.”

As many people may already know or can guess, these two tick families get their name from their hard and soft scutum, or “shell.” Soft ticks do not pose a threat to residents in the northeastern states, but several soft tick species spread various diseases to humans in most states west of the Mississippi River. The most common disease transmitted by soft ticks is known as tick-borne relapsing fever, but some soft ticks are feared for reasons other than their ability to spread disease. For example, a soft tick species aptly known as the Spinose ear tick has a tendency to embed itself into the skin located in human and animal ear canals. This species inhabits the western US, but specimens are frequently introduced into easter states. Another soft tick species, the fowl tick, was once common on properties containing chicken houses. The practice of raising chickens was once commonplace among urban residents in the US, which is why this species was once categorized as an urban pests, but this tick is rare today. The bat tick is another soft tick species that rarely parasitizes humans, but they are known for biting people. This species has been recovered in the northeast, but they are native to the western US.

Were you aware of the difference between soft and hard ticks?