Tick identification

Ticks of veterinary importance can generally be identified based on morphological features of the tick along with knowledge of host specificity. This tick ID information can be used as a guide, but when positive identification is required ticks should be submitted to your local authority.

Ticks for identification in:

Queensland call 13 25 23 and state where you are from and ask to be directed to the local Biosecurity Officer (BO). Alternatively, you can use the following link to find a local DAF office.

Northern Territory contact your Regional Livestock Biosecurity Officer (RLBO).

  • Darwin Telephone: (08) 8999 2030
  • Katherine Telephone: (08) 8973 9754
  • Tennant Creek Telephone: (08) 8962 4458
  • Alice Springs Telephone: (08) 8951 8125

NSW should be taken without delay to the nearest Cattle Tick Control program office or any other NSW DPI office, or your Local Land Services.

Western Australia contact your local Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) Biosecurity Officer.

Collect samples

If possible, extract ticks with undamaged mouthparts as these may be important for identification. Taking the tick carefully between thumb and forefinger, as close to the skin as possible, and pulling gently, perhaps with a slight twisting motion, is usually sufficient for getting the tick off the host. Ticks can be preserved in 70% alcohol or sent in in escape-proof containers.

Severely dehydrated nymphs and adult ticks can be softened and restored for examination by placing them in a small quantity of dilute detergent for several hours. This will also assist with the removal of host tissue from the mouthparts, making identification easier.

Simple guide to identify significant ticks of cattle

Tick descriptions are based on adult ticks. Engorging adult females are the largest life stage and the easiest to find and identify (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Guide to identifying engorged adult female ticks. The addional features are diagnostic but harder to see when ticks are engorged. By Madison Mayfield. Photograph credits cattle tick: NSW Department of Primary Industries, paraylsis tick: Ala Tabor, bush tick: Common source Wikipedia, brown dog tick: PestNet.
Figure 1. Guide to identifying engorged adult female ticks. The addional features are diagnostic but harder to see when ticks are engorged. By Madison Mayfield. Photograph credits cattle tick: NSW Department of Primary Industries, paraylsis tick: Ala Tabor, bush tick: Common source Wikipedia, brown dog tick: PestNet.
Figure 2. Body parts of male and female hard ticks. Example is unfed adult male and female dog ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) photographed from above (dorsal) and below (ventral). Photographs courtesy of Constantin Constantinoiu.
Figure 2. Body parts of male and female hard ticks. Example is unfed adult male and female dog ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) photographed from above (dorsal) and below (ventral). Photographs courtesy of Constantin Constantinoiu.

Features to assist in identification (see Figure 2).

  • Length and shape of mouthparts, which includes the palps, which are either side of the hypostome. The hypostome is the central mouthpart that pierces the animal for feeding.
  • Gender. The hard scutum covers the entire back of the male, but only a small part at the front in the female (allowing the rest of her body to expand when she takes a blood meal).
  • Eyes (can look like small hard blisters) or eyeless.
  • Colour of legs.
  • Body colour.
  • Festoons (short grooves around the margin at the posterior end of the tick) or no festoons. Festoons may be difficult to see when a female tick is fully engorged.
  • Anal groove.