How Long Can Ticks Survive Without a Host?

Ticks are most active during the spring and summer months, and their ability to transmit serious diseases makes them a concern for humans and animals alike. These parasites rely on a host organism for sustenance, often causing harm in the process. Many people wonder how long ticks can survive without a host, and there are various claims on this topic. Some sources suggest ticks can survive for 24 hours or one day without a host, while others claim they can endure up to two years without food. In reality, both statements could be true, but the actual timeframe depends on factors such as environmental conditions, tick species, and their life stage.

Survival Time Without a Host Varies by Tick Species

Different tick species have varying abilities to survive without a host. Some species require immediate feeding to survive, while others can go for extended periods without food. Ticks are classified as three-host species, meaning they attach to different hosts during each stage of their life cycle: larvae, nymph, and adult. Consequently, different tick species have different survival rates depending on their life stage.

Blacklegged (Deer) Tick

Blacklegged (Deer) Tick

Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, prefer white-tailed deer as their hosts when they reach the adult stage. However, during their larval stage, these ticks typically feed once between June and September. If deer tick larvae fail to feed during this period, their lifespan is likely less than one year. As nymphs, deer ticks feed during the summer months. However, if nymphs do not feed during their first season, some can survive through two additional seasons without a meal. Adult deer ticks typically attach to a host in autumn and remain attached until spring. But if adults do not feed during this period, they can survive for just under a year.

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American Dog Tick

American Dog Tick

American dog ticks can survive even longer without a host. Unfed larvae can survive for up to 540 days, while unfed nymphs have been known to survive for up to 584 days! Unfed adult American dog ticks are even more impressive, as they can go 2-3 years (up to 1,053 days) without food.

Brown Dog Tick

Brown Dog Tick

For adult female brown dog ticks, laying 1,000-3,000 tiny, dark brown eggs at a time is common. Once these eggs hatch into larvae, they can survive for up to eight months without food or water. In the nymph stage, brown dog ticks can go three months without attaching to a host. Adult brown dog ticks usually feed on dogs to obtain a blood meal as soon as possible, but they can survive for up to 18 months without feeding!

Lone Star Tick

Lone Star Tick

Female lone star ticks lay around 3,000 to 5,000 eggs at a time on average. After hatching, larvae can survive without a host for up to 279 days. Once they mature from larvae to nymphs, lone star ticks can go over a year (up to 476 days) without feeding. Fully mature adult lone star ticks can endure up to 430 days without a blood meal.

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

Like lone star ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks lay approximately 3,000 to 5,000 eggs at a time. The eggs hatch within 7 to 38 days, and the resulting larvae typically attach to nearby hosts. In general, these larvae need to find a host within 30 days, although some can go up to 117 days without attaching. Once the larvae molt into nymphs, they can survive for over 300 days without food. As adults, they can endure even longer without a host – up to 600 days!

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Photo Credit:

The National Pest Management Association (NPMA)

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