Difference Between Hard Ticks and Soft Ticks

Hard ticks and soft ticks have many physical and biological dissimilarities. Among some of the more important differences are:

Appearance

  • Hard tick adult males and females have different coloration and females are somewhat larger than males. Hard ticks have a “plate” on their back that is called a scutum. Also, hard ticks have mouthparts that are visible when the tick is viewed from above.
  • Soft ticks appear to have a wrinkled body; lack a scutum; and the males and females are very close to the same size. Viewing a soft tick from above would give someone the impression that soft ticks do not have mouthparts. However, that is not the case; rather their mouthparts are located on the underside of the body so that the front portion of the tick’s body hides the mouthparts.

Diet

Although both hard and soft ticks are blood feeders and can transmit diseases, hard ticks typically search for and feed on hosts during the daytime, while soft ticks normally search for and feed on hosts during the nighttime.

Habitat

  • Hard ticks thrive in habitats rich with vertebrate hosts, like mammals, lizards and ground-dwelling birds. Their preferred habitat is brushy, wooded or weedy areas, especially moist woodlands and vegetated areas at the edge of forests, along hiking trails and in overgrown weedy or grassy fields.
  • Soft ticks are generally found in animal burrows, dens, caves or broken-down, simple human dwellings such as huts, cabins or sheds. In addition, soft ticks readily thrive in hot and dry conditions.

Life Cycle

Most hard ticks are either a one, two or three-host tick. After the tick’s egg stage hatches, one larval, one nymphal and an adult stage follows. Mature, blood-fed female adult ticks drop from the host, lay a large mass of a few to several thousand eggs and then die. Hard ticks usually mate while on host animals. Depending on the tick species and environmental conditions, the typical longevity of hard ticks ranges from about 2 months to 3 years.

  • Adult female soft ticks feed and lay eggs several times during their lifetime. Most species of soft ticks do not bury themselves for a long stay on a host. Instead, they feed quickly, detach and then return later for another blood meal. Also, soft tick nymphs may feed several times and go through several nymphal stages. Female adults that take multiple blood meals will lay small batches of 20-50 eggs after taking each blood meal during their lifetime. Soft ticks can live up to 16 years.

Tick Transmitted Diseases In The United States

Hard ticks are more likely to parasitize people and animals than soft ticks. Therefore, hard ticks transmit far more diseases in the United States than soft ticks. Some diseases transmitted by each group of ticks are:

  • Hard ticks
    • Lyme disease
    • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
    • Tularemia
    • Colorado tick fever
    • Human tick-borne ehrlichiosis
    • American babesiosis
    • Tick paralysis
    • STARI (Southern tick-associated rash illness)
    • Anaplasmosis
  • Soft Ticks
    • Tick-borne relapsing fever