TICKS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick (Dermacentor andersoni),
photo by Werner Eigelsreiter
View Jack Teng's video on ticks
Read Rob Higgins' article on the ticks of BC.
Visit our tick atlas pages (note that not all species have map data).
by Evert E. Lindquist and King Wan Wu
Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
Ticks have always been part of the fauna of British Columbia and Canada. Their presence and distribution was documented in Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, in a book by John D. Gregson in 1956 (
The Ixodoideae of Canada). Ticks are actually a highly distinctive group of relatively large mites (body length 1 to 5 mm as unfed adults but up to 20 mm when fully engorged), among which they are distinguished by a set of unique specializations of their mouthparts, leg sensory receptors, and body for seeking and feeding obligately on the blood of vertebrate animals, especially birds and mammals. All postembryonic instars - larva, nymph and adult - of most tick species are capable of harming their hosts through exsanguination or secondary infection at sites of attachment. Like other larval mites, larval ticks have three pairs of legs, and they lack lateroventral respiratory openings, the stigmata, on the body. Nymphal and adult ticks have four pairs of legs and a pair of stigmatal plates behind or lateral to their fourth pair of legs. Nymphs lack the genital aperture that is present ventrally between the bases of the legs on adults.
Globally, over 800 species of ticks have been described, and ticks occur with their hosts throughout the world. Although encountered most frequently in tropical and subtropical regions, ticks are also significant pests of wild and domesticated animals and humans in temperate and boreal forest and prairie habitats, and even in harsher tundra of the far north. In addition to exsanguination, ticks of some species serve as reservoirs and vectors for a surprising variety of pathogens, including viruses, rickettsias, bacteria, sporozoans and spirochaetes. In Canada, these pathogens include the causative agents of Lyme disease, relapsing fever, tularaemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever, Colorado Tick fever, Powassan encephalitis, babesiosis, and perhaps others. Ixodid ticks of the genus Dermacentor also can cause a motor paralysis in humans and mammals following extended periods of engorgement. Tick paralysis may result in death if the feeding ticks are allowed to remain attached to the host.
Ticks are classified in their own order, Ixodida (also named Metastigmata), in the Acari, or mites, a subclass of Arachnida. Of the three families of Ixodida generally recognized, two, the Argasidae and Ixodidae, are represented in Canada, where 40 species in 10 genera are known to occur. Of these, 27 species in 8 genera are known or expected to occur in British Columbia. Argasid ticks, known as ‘soft ticks’ in lacking a hard dorsal shield on their bodies, are generally nocturnal and are rapid feeders, resembling bed bugs in this respect. Only 8 species, in 4 genera, are known or thought to occur in Canada, 4  species of which are recorded [or expected] in British Columbia. Ixodid ticks, known as ‘hard ticks’ in having a hard dorsal shield, or scutum, that covers at least the anterior portion of the body, are mostly diurnal and slow feeders, remaining attached to their hosts for considerable lengths of time if undisturbed. Thirty-two species in 6 genera are known or thought to occur in Canada, 23 of which belong to the genus Ixodes. The British Columbian fauna includes 4 of these genera and 20 of these species, including 14 species of Ixodes.
Keys for identification and other information about Canadian ticks, including those of BC, were last presented in a work by J.D. Gregson, published in 1956. Although that work has served well during the 50-year interval since its issue, it has become considerably out of date with regard to the species of ticks that are now known to occur in BC and elsewhere in Canada, their distribution, their range of hosts, and the variety of pathogens that they carry. For example, Lyme disease has only been known as such since the mid-1970's, and human babesiosis is a more recently emerging disease in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. Moreover, there has been no publication, either for Canada or the continental United States, that has included keys to the larval instar of tick species. As a reservoir and vector of pathogens, the larva may be just as important as subsequent instars. Accurate identification of a feeding tick to species, whether it be larva, nymph, female or male, is an essential first step in leading to information as to whether there should be concern about the tick being a potential vector of a pathogen of one disease or another. Although certain species of ticks have been shown to be carriers and competent vectors of diseases, many others either do not harbor pathogens or do not serve as competent vectors of them.
As it becomes developed, this web site will present a general survey of available information on all species of ticks known or anticipated to occur in British Columbia, in such a way that viewers may become familiar with their identities and their medico-veterinary importance. This information may be equally useful in Alaska and the northwestern tier of contiguous states of the United States of America bordering British Columbia.
There remain gaps in our knowledge about species of ticks in British Columbia, particularly their life histories, host ranges, vector potentials, distribution, and methods of dispersal. We hope that this web site will serve to stimulate further investigations in these fields.
To read more about the ticks of British Columbia, read Rob Higgins article on "Common ticks of the Cariboo-Chilcotin and other parts of British Columbia".
Evert E. Lindquist (Principle Research Scientist (retired) &
Honorary Research Associate) and King Wu (Research Technician)
Invertebrate Systematics - Acarology Unit
Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
K.W. Neatby Bldg., 960 Carling Avenue
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0C6
Please contact King Wu with inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ticks of Canada
Distribution of the Ixodes ricinus-like ticks of eastern North America
National Tick Collection, Smithsonian Institute Database
Geosensing and remote sensing are predictive tools of tick distribution
Virtual Tick Museum
Ticks and humans in BC
Lyme Disease links for BC
Distribution and Abundance of the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick in the US
Ticks of California
Distribution of Ixodes pacificus and Ixodes scapularis in Canada
Ticks of Canada
Predicting the Establishment of the Bont tick in the United States
The Winter Deer Tick (Dermacentor albipictus)
Ancient Tick found in New Jersey
Tick Distribution follows rives in the midwest
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