When the weather gets warmer, humans and their pets are not the only ones eager to get outside after a long winter – ticks are out in full force and can pose a significant health risk to humans and pets alike, spreading diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Here is everything you need to know about what different kinds of ticks look like, how to prevent tick bites and the dangers associated with these potentially dangerous pests.
Blacklegged (Deer) Tick
The blacklegged (deer) tick is named for its notorious dark legs and is sometimes referred to as a deer tick because it prefers to host on the white-tailed deer. Found throughout the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, southeastern and northcentral United States, blacklegged ticks are known vectors of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, human babesiosis, Powassan encephalitis, and more. Blacklegged ticks are a flat, broad oval shape and are typically orange-brown in color with darker legs. They have 8 legs, categorizing them as arachnids, and are 1/8” long on average.
Blacklegged ticks normally hide in grass and shrubs and wait for a passing host to latch on to. They can also be found in the den or nests of common hosts, such as skunks, raccoons, opossums, and rodents. These ticks prefer the nesting areas of the white-footed mouse because they are often in well-sheltered places such as underground, in tree stumps, old bird nests and woodpiles. Blacklegged ticks are vectors of anaplasmosis, Lyme disease and human babesiosis. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a bull’s eye-shaped skin rash around the bite sight.
American Dog Tick
The American Dog Tick is named after its host of choice – the dog. These ticks are only found throughout North America and are a member of the hard tick family. American dog ticks are known vectors of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and exposure to these ticks is most common during spring and early summer. American dog ticks are flat and oval in shape, and usually brown with whitish-gray markings. Similar to the blacklegged tick, these ticks have 6 legs as larvae but have 8 legs when they are adults. They range anywhere from 5 mm to 15 mm in size depending on whether or not they are engorged.
American dog ticks prefer grassy areas with low vegetation where larger animals commonly pass by and thrive in areas that are also accessible to humans. When these ticks latch on to dogs, they are brought into the home and can potentially be transferred to humans. American dog ticks are extremely resilient and are able to survive for 2-3 years without feeding.
Lone Star Tick
Lone star ticks are named for their identifiable characteristic of a single spot located on the female’s back. Found mainly in the eastern and southeastern U.S., these ticks target humans more than any of the other tick species. Lone star ticks are reddish brown and become dark gray once engorged. Similar to the other species of ticks, lone star tick larvae have 6 legs, while adults have 8. Female lone star ticks are typically about 1/8” long when not engorged but can grow to up to 7/16” when engorged. Male ticks are usually slightly smaller.
Lone star ticks are three-host ticks, meaning they attach to a different host during each stage of their lifespan: larvae, nymph and adult. They attach to their host by crawling up the tips of low-growing vegetation, such as grass, and wait for the host to pass by and brush against the vegetation. As nymphs and adults, lone star ticks will also crawl on the ground to find the host and attach. These ticks are most often found in shaded areas, as they cannot survive for long in the sun. Larvae prefer small animals, including rabbits, skunks, raccoons, cats and birds, while nymphs typically target a mix of small and large animals. Adult lone star tick hosts are larger animals, such as fox, dogs, cats, deer, turkey, cattle and humans – who are fed on by all three stages of lone star ticks.
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
The Rocky Mountain wood tick is named after the habitat it is most commonly found – throughout the wooded areas of the Rocky Mountain states. They are also commonly referred to as wood ticks. Rocky Mountain wood ticks are oval and flat in shape and are usually brown but become gray when they are engorged. They can range from 1/8” to 5/8” in length. As is customary with the other tick species, Rocky Mountain wood ticks have 6 legs as larvae and 8 as adults.
Similar to the lone star tick, Rocky Mountain wood ticks are a three-host tick, with each stage requiring a new host. These ticks are at their highest threat level from mid-March to mid-July. Larvae and nymphs typically feed on rodents, like squirrels, chipmunks and voles, while adults feed on larger animals, including sheep, deer and humans. Rocky Mountain wood ticks are typically found in wooded areas, open grasslands and around trails where they can easily attach to a host.
Make sure to follow these prevention tips to reduce the risk of tick bites:
Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and closed-toe shoes when outdoors.
Wear light colored clothing so that ticks are easier to spot.
Wear repellent containing at least 20 percent DEET.
Keep your yard tick-free by removing weeds and cutting grass low.
Inspect yourself, your family and pets for ticks after spending time outdoors.
When hiking, stay in the center of trails and away from vegetation.
Be on the lookout for signs of tick bites, such as a telltale red bull’s eye rash around a bite. If you suspect a tick has bitten you, seek medical attention. If you find a tick in your home or are experiencing a tick problem on your property, contact Bug U Pest control for a licensed professional who can recommend a course of action.