Currently, 900 species of ticks are known around the world, mainly divided into the two major families of hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae).
Hard ticks carry a hard shield (scutum) on their backs. In males the scutum covers the whole back, but in females, nymphs and larvae it only covers part of the back. Hard ticks are found in all parts of the Earth, except the Arctic and the Antarctic. The hard tick family includes the castor bean tick, hedgehog tick and the brown dog tick.
Soft ticks lack a scutum, making them softer and more leather-like. They mainly appear in tropical and subtropical regions. The only soft tick found in Germany is the pigeon tick.
Tick species in Germany
The castor bean tick (Ixodes ricinus) lives all over Europe and in Germany it’s the most encountered species of tick. The ricinus part of its Latin name refers to their similarity in appearance to castor beans.
- Distribution: Germany and the rest of Europe (exception: above 1,500 meters in mountainous areas)
- Potential hazard: The castor bean is the species of tick that most commonly affects humans and animals as its capable of transmitting Lyme borreliosis bacteria and the TBE virus
- Activity: Nymphs, females and males are most active from March to October/November (in highlands and mountains with shorter seasons) and larvae are most active from April/May to October. In periods of very mild weather, nymphs and adult ticks are also active in winter
- Typical habitats: Woodlands, city parks, gardens
- Size: Adult females before feeding are approx. 3–4 mm, engorged up to more than 1 cm. Adult males are approx. 2.5–3.5 mm. Nymphs before feeding are approx. 1.5 mm. Larvae before feeding are approx. 1 mm
- Hosts include: Small mammals, birds, lizards, hedgehogs, hares, roe, fallow and red deer, foxes, dogs, cats and humans
The marsh tick (Dermacentor reticulatus) is a representative of the colorful genus of ticks known as Dermacentor and since the end of the 1990s has spread across the whole of Germany. This species of tick actively hunts its host.
- Distribution: Mostly concentrated in the eastern and southwestern parts of Germany
- Potential hazard: The marsh tick mainly affects dogs and horses, rarely humans. For example, it transmits the bacteria Babesia, the pathogen of canine babesiosis known as "dog malaria"
- Activity: Most active February/March until May and from August until the onset of winter
- Typical habitats: Woodland, flood plains, grassland, scrubland, moorland
- Size: Adult females and males before feeding are approx. 3–5 mm. Nymphs before feeding are approx. 0.9–1.2 mm. Larvae before feeding are approx. 0.5 mm
- Hosts: Small mammals, roe, fallow and red deer, wild pigs, horses, cattle, sheep, dogs and humans
The hedgehog tick (Ixodes hexagonus) belongs to the hard tick family and predominantly resides in the burrow of its host animal, where it lurks awaiting its next host.
- Distribution: Germany and almost all of Europe from the Mediterranean Sea to Scandinavia and Ireland, as well as Algeria and Morocco in North Africa, in Asia Minor and the Caucasus region, eastwards throughout the whole of Eastern Europe and Western Asia as far as Central Asia
- Potential hazard: Rarely affects humans, transmits Lyme borreliosis bacteria and TBE virus among others
- Activity: Most active from March to November, particularly in spring and autumn
- Typical habitats: Woodlands, city parks, gardens
- Size: Adult females and males before feeding: approx. 3.5–4 mm. Nymphs before feeding: approx. 1.2–1.4 mm. Larvae before feeding: less than 1 mm. Engorged hedgehog ticks are sometimes lightly colored or even whitish
- Hosts: Foxes, hedgehogs, weasels, polecats, stoats, dogs, cats and humans
The ornate sheep tick (Dermacentor marginatus) is a member of the hard tick family. It is rarely found in Germany, because it predominantly lives in steppe regions.
- Distribution: Uncommon in southern Germany, more common in areas devoted to sheep grazing and in the steppes
- Potential hazard: It rarely affects humans, however can transmit the pathogens causing Q fever, tularaemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Siberian tick typhus, bovine anaplasmosis and canine babesiosis, among others
- Typical habitats: Areas of sunlit meadows (dry grass) and sparse forests
- Size: Adult females and males before feeding are approx. 4–6 mm, engorged females up to 15 mm
- Hosts: Small mammals, sheep, red deer, wild pigs, goats, cattle, horses, dogs and humans
The pigeon tick (Argas reflexus) is found throughout Central Europe; primarily in or on buildings. The pigeon tick can live up to nine years without a host.
- Distribution: All of Germany
- Potential hazard: Mainly affects pigeons, but occasionally affects humans. In humans, some evidence suggests that possible adverse effects range from allergic reactions to anaphylactic shock
- Activity: Most active from March to October, also year-round inside buildings
- Typical habitats: In favorably warm places in or on buildings, also around nesting areas of pigeons, e.g. in lofts
- Size: Adult females before feeding are approx. 5 mm, engorged up to 10 mm. Adult males before feeding are approx. 4 mm
- Hosts: Rock doves, feral domestic pigeons, birds, poultry and humans
Hyalomma is a tick species that is predominantly encountered in Africa. It requires little water and actively searches for its victims.
- Distribution: Southern Europe, South Asia, Africa
- Potential hazard: It actively hunts its hosts and also affects humans – it is feared as a transmitter of the Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus
- Activity: Most active from June to October
- Typical habitats: Steppes, deserts and desert steppes, hot and dry areas
- Size: Adult males and females before feeding are approx. 2–10 mm, engorged females up to 25 mm
- Hosts: Hoofed animals such as pigs, goats, sheep and camels, but also humans. They sense a potential victim up to nine meters away and will follow it for up to ten minutes over a distance of up to 100 meters
The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), also known as the kennel tick, originally comes from Africa and has now spread across the whole of southern Europe. Its name is due to the fact that this tick species mainly affects dogs.
- Distribution: Africa, southern Europe, rarely north of the Alps
- Potential hazard: It primarily affects dogs and transmits a variety of bacteria: Babesia, Babesia canis vogeli (the pathogen that causes canine babesiosis), Ehrlichia canis (causes canine ehrlichiosis), Anaplasma platys (canine cyclic thrombocytopenia) and Hepatozoon canis (hepatozoonosis).
- Activity: Most active during summer months, also year-round in warm places (e.g. homes, animal shelters)
- Typical habitats: Warm regions, in Germany in heated facilities
- Size: Adult males and females before feeding are approx. 3 mm, engorged females up to 12 mm. Nymphs before feeding are approx. 1 mm. Larvae before feeding are approx. 0.5 mm
- Hosts: Dogs, rarely humans