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Deer Ticks…What you Need to Know

Generally

Deer ticks, primarily found in the eastern half of the United States, are also known as black legged ticks, often mistaken for brown dog ticks. Named for their tendency to feed on white-tailed deer, deer ticks may also feed on other large mammals, including humans. Humans are considered accidental hosts and may contract Lyme disease from bites.Livestock and domestic animals can also be hosts.

What Do Deer Ticks Look Like?

These ticks are brownish in color but may change to rust or brown-red following feeding. Adult males are smaller than females and are uniformly brown in color. Unfed adult female deer ticks are approximately 3 – 5mm long and are colored red and brown. Like other ticks, their bodies are flattened and after becoming engorged by a blood meal expand substantially. Engorged females after a blood meal appear darker and are about 10 mm long. They possess eight legs as adults. Juvenile nymphs are between 1-2 mm long (about pin-head sized) with eight legs whereas larvae are less than 1 mm long and have only 6 legs.

How Did You Get Deer Ticks?

Those near wooded areas with large deer and field mice populations are at risk for deer ticks. White-tailed deer, one of the adult tick’s preferred hosts, often venture into yards and bring ticks with them.

Deer ticks are often attracted to:

  • Large mammal populations
  • Brush
  • Thick grass
  • Wooded areas with significant shade and high humidity

How Serious Are Deer Ticks?

Deer ticks can spread several illnesses, including Lyme disease and the hard-to-treat Powassan virus. While the pests prefer to feed on deer, rodents, and other mammals, they will attack humans as well. If there are medical concerns, always consult a physician.  Deer tick bites are virtually painless, and victims often do not recognize that they have been bitten until symptoms appear. Females feed for extended periods and can be found attached to the skin of bite victims.

Prevention Techniques:

  • Maintain trimmed lawns.
  • Remove ground debris around the yard.
  • Remove trees that provide shade, if possible.
  • Check for ticks on clothing and skin after all outdoor activities.
  • Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants.
  • Use repellents upon recommendation by your family doctor or other medical professional.

Where Do They Live?

Deer ticks are found in many locations where their preferred host, the white-tailed deer, dwell. They are present throughout most of the eastern United States, though now reported to be found in all fifty states.  They tend to live in wooded areas and along trails in forests.

Deer ticks reside on the tips of grass and leaves along these trails, enabling them to crawl directly onto the skin or fur of a passing host. Some of these trails may be found in suburban areas where forests intersect with more populated areas; often where deer and other animals are active.

What Do They Eat?

All three of the deer tick’s development stages (adult, nymph and larvae) require blood meals from their hosts. They attach themselves and feed on one host during each stage in their development. Larvae and nymphs both molt after feeding.

Life Cycle

Deer ticks take approximately two years to complete their life cycles. Development depends on environment and the availability of hosts. Under most favorable conditions, they may be capable of developing in less than one year.

Typically, females lay eggs in suitable areas close to vegetation.  After laying eggs, female deer ticks die. However, one female can lay up to 3,000 eggs. Six-legged larvae emerge from these eggs and begin to search for a host (usually a smaller rodent). Larvae feed for approximately four days before dropping to the ground to molt into nymphs.

Resulting nymphs have eight legs and search again for hosts. Once again, they will feed and molt into adults (optimally seeking smaller mammals as a host).  The larval feeding stage is responsible for the tick’s contraction of most diseases (e.g., Lyme disease), while these diseases are transferred to humans and livestock during the nymphal and adult stages.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a debilitating disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks are the most common vectors (transmitter) of this bacterium. Lyme disease is easily transmitted to human and animal hosts through deer tick bites.

Although deer ticks do not jump or fly, they remain in grassy areas frequented by dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded hosts. As these hosts brush against the grass, deer ticks cling to the coat of the animal and begin to feed. Because they potentially bite a different host for the next meal, infected ticks can spread Lyme disease quickly throughout a population.

The small size of the deer tick is also a factor in the common frequency of Lyme disease. Their bites are not painful, and most victims do not notice them until they have become engorged while taking a blood meal

Removal

Due to the tick’s small size, it can be difficult to locate the pest on its host. These parasites attach themselves to hosts and hide within the fur, hair, or feathers.  On humans, deer ticks are commonly found in the areas near the nape of the neck or along the lower scalp. Extreme care must be exercised when removing these pests from the skin of any host.  Inadvertent crushing or puncturing of the tick may release bodily fluids, which increases the risk of disease transmission. The most efficient method includes the use of tweezers or forceps removing the entire tick, including its embedded mouthparts.

How Do I Get Rid of Deer Ticks?

Your pest management professional (PMP) is trained to help control deer ticks and the animals that act as hosts for this pest.  Knowledge of the pest and proper maintenance of the area surrounding your home will offer a level of protection.  Contact Millette today and let us design a program tailored for your needs.

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