Learn about ticks

For info about our tick treatment click here

Ticks and, in particular, paralysis ticks are one of the most dreaded biting pests we have. There are a lot of good reasons not to get bitten by ticks, so for many people around coastal parts of eastern Australia the presence of ticks means they’ve given up gardening or no longer let the kids play outside. At TickSafe we’ll give you back your garden. We want you to know as much about ticks as we do, so here’s a list of questions and answers that explain many things about ticks, their ecology and life cycle.

For information on Tick Bite First Aid click here.

How do I know what sort of ticks we have in our garden?

Grass ticks, Bush ticks, Seed ticks, Shellback ticks, Bottle ticks, Scrub ticks, Wattle ticks, Hardback ticks, Shower ticks, Bluebottle ticks.

Guess what? These are all just different names for exactly the same species. The Australian Paralysis Tick – Ixodes Holocyclus. read more

A very common mis-understanding about ticks comes from the names people call them. At each stage of a tick’s life they look very different and their size changes immensely, which is why they have so many different names. Where people encounter ticks also leads to names like “Scrub Tick”, “Wattle Tick” or “Lantana Tick”. Newly hatched paralysis ticks that attach to your skin will often be called “Grass Ticks” or “Seed Ticks”. Once ticks move into their adult phase they may be called “Bush Ticks” or “Hardback Ticks” and once they engorge themselves on blood, in preparation for their egg laying phase and grow into the ugly, swollen ticks you dread most, they may be called “Shellback Ticks”, “Bottle Ticks” or “Dog Ticks” (even though, correctly, Dog Ticks are another unique species).

So, be aware, that although there are around 75 species of tick in Australia, the majority of ticks found up and down the East Coast, including Sydney, are Australian Paralysis Ticks. Don’t be mis-led by anything else you hear – we know of one recent case where a northern Sydney veterinary surgeon told a client not to worry about the many small ticks on her dog as they were just “Grass Ticks”. There is no such species of tick and they were, in fact, juvenile paralysis ticks. And TickSafe can rid your garden of them.

What diseases and health problems can ticks give me or my pets...?

Australia has about 75 species of ticks and all of them can spread disease, however the most common local variety of tick is uniquely dangerous. The Australian Paralysis Tick is an arachnid, so it’s more like a spider than an insect. It has potent neuro-toxins within it’s own saliva that are genetically similar to the poison from a scorpion – and it injects this saliva into your blood every time it bites. These saliva toxins are what causes the acute allergy leading to paralysis – but before that point is reached you can suffer swelling of the face and throat, intense, uncontrollable itching, large spreading sores, welts and rashes. Children under 5 are at greater risk from actual paralysis that starts with loss of muscle control. read more

But allergy is only one part of it. Paralysis ticks ALSO spread diseases including Australian Tick Typhus a.k.a. Spotted Fever which is a form of Rickettsial bacterial infection. Another disease very similar to Lyme disease is also recognised. This can have debilitating health effects lasting for years with symptoms ranging from fevers, fatigue, sore throat and headache through to severe joint pain, meningitis, Bell’s palsy and heart complications.

The most recently identified tick illness is Mammalian Meat Allergy (MMA). This happens when ticks transfer a carbohydrate called alpha-gal from a non-human mammal’s blood into a human’s bloodstream as it moves from one “host” to another. This carbohydrate is foreign to human bodies and in some people antibodies are produced that can provoke a violent anaphylactic reaction when that person subsequently eats any type of red meat, all of which naturally contain alpha-gal – which the body now identifies as a toxic substance.

This reaction to eating red meat may not happen for months after the infected tick bite and then may be delayed for several hours after the meat is eaten. A neighbour of one of TickSafe’s founders had to be rushed to hospital and put on life support spending three days in intensive care before she recovered from her first bout of MMA. Worst of all, an affected person can never eat red meat again, and in some cases dairy products, as the same reaction is probable every time.

For pet owners bites from ticks are a serious and very expensive worry. Dogs are especially vulnerable, with many dying from tick bites in Australia every year. Your dog can’t tell you when they have an itchy spot once a tick starts biting them and even if you often check your dog’s coat it can be very hard to find ticks. If an adult tick has attached itself to your dog and is not removed it would normally feed on your pet’s blood for at least 6 days. By the fourth day of a tick bite, most dogs will start to lose muscle control which, untreated, rapidly leads to paralysis and death. Vets can help in many, but not all, cases. At TickSafe we have first hand reports from our clients of vet bills following tick bites on dogs ranging from $4000.00 up to $15,500.00. And it’s not just dogs that can be affected. Cats, rabbits, backyard chickens, Guinea pigs along with horses, goats, lambs and ponies are at risk. A study published by the Australian Veterinary Association reports cases of large horses that were paralysed and unable to stand up following bites from a single tick.

How can I stop ticks from biting me?

If you need to be in areas that are prone to ticks there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your chances of being bitten. For a start wear long sleeves and long pants, preferably tightened at the wrists and ankles. Ticks do not drop from trees onto people, but wearing a hat might help prevent a tick from attaching to your head if you brush past it. read more


Insect repellent is essential. You must choose a product that contains either DEET or Picaradin. The higher the concentration of these ingredients, the longer the product will remain effective. Unfortunately, the “all natural” products will do very little at all to keep ticks from attacking you. When applying repellents you must cover every bit of skin that you want to protect. Rubbing a streak down one side of your exposed ankle will only protect the precise spot where the repellent has been applied! Finally, make a thorough check of your skin, with a friend to look at places you can’t see, when you leave a tick area. Ticks can take up to 2 hours to actually bite you once they’ve found their way onto your skin and even then may go unnoticed for one to two days before you feel the effects of their bite. Some people however will get an immediate and severe allergic reaction.

Why do ticks bite us anyway...?

Paralysis ticks don’t technically “bite”. They are a parasite and insert their sharp, barbed mouth parts into your skin to get to your blood which they eat for nourishment. They are an egg laying animal. Research by the University of Queensland shows that a single tick will lay between 1,500 and 10,000 eggs. Each of these hatches out as a miniature version of the adults – although adult ticks have 8 legs while juveniles have 6. read more


A bit like crabs or scorpions, they grow by shedding their shell-like skin in the process called “moulting”. For ticks this happens twice during their life. When you find the very small ticks on your skin which are sometimes called “grass ticks” or “seed ticks” it is a juvenile Paralysis Tick feeding on your blood to give it the protein it needs to grow a new shell. Juvenile ticks can cause severe allergic reactions in humans, with that risk increasing at each stage of their lifecycle. For your own safety it is essential to eliminate juvenile ticks before they develop into their adult phase which is when they are at their most dangerous, and at TickSafe we can do that. A tick only becomes a male or female after their second moulting. At this stage they become sexually mature and ready to breed. As adults, only the females feed on blood to get the nourishment needed to produce thousands of eggs and as they grow they produce ever larger volumes of toxic saliva and other pathogens to inject into whatever they bite. Adult male ticks will also climb onto humans and pets but only to find a female to mate with. Nasty!

How do ticks get into my garden in the first place...?

Ticks must feed on the blood of another animal, called a “host” at three distinct times in their lives. In nature this would normally be a native animal, in particular bandicoots, possums and echidnas plus wallabies, wombats, lizards and birds. Native animals have evolved alongside paralysis ticks and are immune to their toxins. read more

Dogs and cats along with rats, mice, rabbits, foxes, chickens plus horses, cattle, sheep and goats are other hosts that ticks will attack. Not to mention us humans! When ticks are feeding on a host’s blood they stay firmly attached for between 4 and 10 days and travel wherever that animal goes. Once they have finished feeding they drop onto the ground where they either moult their skin to grow a new one, or if they’re mature, to lay their eggs.

So, a sure way that ticks arrive in your garden is on board another animal. Bandicoots are the most common animal to carry large numbers of ticks, one study showed a single bandicoot carried more than two thousand juvenile ticks over one season! Bandicoot numbers have risen dramatically across urban areas of Sydney over recent years, with tick numbers doing the same. But remember, wandering cats and dogs, possums, birds and even people can also carry ticks into your garden and once they get established their numbers soar. Windy weather will also spread ticks, especially the very small juveniles. If you buy garden products including plants, soil, turf and mulch then ticks might be on board. Gardening equipment used by people who work in your garden may also catch ticks and their eggs allowing them to be carried from one customer’s garden to the next.

Ticks and bandicoots.... what’s the connection?

Very few people actually see the secretive bandicoot in their garden, but don’t forget that possums, birds, lizards, cats and dogs may also visit your garden carrying ticks. You know you have bandicoots when you find those neat, little, cone shaped holes in your lawn and garden beds. Usually these holes are between 5cm and 8cm deep and are the result of bandicoots digging for lawn grubs and other small creatures that live in the soil. At TickSafe, if we see evidence of bandicoot activity in your garden we will use a treatment formula that also eliminates the lawn grubs that attract the bandicoots to your garden in the first place, but rest assured it will not harm the bandicoots in any way.

Evidence of bandicoots

Evidence of bandicoots

read more

This helps reduce the number of new ticks piggy-backing in! A study in “The Australian Journal of Ecology” showed that a single bandicoot could drop as many as two thousand juvenile paralysis ticks from that season’s generation. Other research has shown that a bandicoot can have as many as 70 adult ticks on it at once, all of them ready to drop off and lay thousands of eggs. It’s easy to see how your garden can become rapidly infested with ticks from this alone. Please remember that Bandicoots are a native animal and are fully protected. It is not even legal to trap and move them without a permit.

How do the ticks get onto me so easily?

Ticks do this by climbing up onto plants to a height where they can contact any passing animals. Unfortunately for us humans, we behave in exactly the right way for ticks to also attack us! Once the tick is sitting up high in the grass, branch or leaves it’s chosen, it extends it’s long, claw tipped front legs and waves them slowly back and forth in a behaviour call “questing”.read more


Ticks aren’t choosy about what animal they attach to, and will immediately latch on to the first unlucky creature, ourselves included, that crosses it’s path. It will also attach to our clothing just as readily; mistaking the fibres for animal fur. The tick then crawls around your body for up to 2 hours looking for an ideal place to bite; this is how they often end up around your head, contrary to the popular urban myth however, that says ticks drop onto victims from the trees above. Ticks will almost always choose a soft, warm and vulnerable part to insert their spiny, barbed mouth parts along with their saliva, that stops your blood from clotting, so they can consume it. If you have been outside and later notice something itching don’t scratch it until you’ve checked it’s not a tick. Scratching a tick can cause it to empty it’s saliva and gut contents into your blood stream greatly increasing your risk of illness.

Left undisturbed on your skin a Paralysis Tick would suck blood and feed for between 4 and 10 days depending on which part of the life cycle it’s at. The adult female is the most dangerous Paralysis Tick, steadily injecting toxin while feeding on blood before dropping off to lay thousands of eggs.

Some people call ticks at this stage of their life cycle “Bush Ticks” or “Shell Back Ticks” as they are large, hardened and shiny. The largest females can reach 13mm long once fully engorged on blood and starting to produce eggs. It is important to remember that whatever size they’re at, or name they’re called, if you have ticks in your garden and you’re within 20km of the coast then they are most likely the Paralysis Tick Ixodes Holocyclus and must be treated with extreme caution.

When’s the best time of year to get TickSafe to treat my garden?

You can start treatment at any time of the year and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll see tick numbers plummet in your garden. It’s important to understand that ticks do not conform to a set life cycle “calendar” throughout the year. Ticks from all three stages of their life cycle, and their eggs, can be present in your garden right across the year. However, the largest numbers of juvenile ticks will be there in autumn, with the middle phase, called “nymphs”, peaking in winter and the adult numbers peaking through spring and summer. The life cycle of a tick averages 12 to 14 months and their eggs can take up to 6 months to hatch depending on conditions. read more


These factors are a big advantage in helping us to treat your garden because you don’t have to wait for a certain time of year to begin your TickSafe treatment. It also helps explain why repeat treatments are essential. One extra fact: A tick’s eggs have an impervious waxy coating. However, our treatment keeps working for several months before it bio-degrades, so as tick eggs hatch, these new juveniles will be killed, along with newly arrived ticks from outside, provided your treatments are up to date.