The salivary glands are the organs of osmoregulation in ticks and, as such, are critical to the biological success of ticks both during the extended period off the host and also during the feeding period on the host. Absorption of water vapour from unsaturated air into hygroscopic fluid produced by the salivary glands permit the tick to remain hydrated and viable during the many months between blood-meals. When feeding, the tick is able to return about 70% of the fluid and ion content of the blood-meal into the host by salivation into the feeding site. This saliva also contains many bioactive protein and lipid components that aid acquisition of the blood-meal. The salivary glands are the site of pathogen development and the saliva the route of transmission. The importance of the multifunctional salivary glands to tick survival and vector competency makes the glands a potential target for intervention. Here we review the cell biology of tick salivary glands and discuss the application of new approaches such as expressed sequence tag projects and RNA interference to this important area in the field of tick and tick-borne pathogen research.