Know Your Enemy

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Know Your Enemy

Tick species

The blacklegged-tick (Ixodes scapularus) is the most common carrier of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.  However, the lone-star tick (Amblyomma americanum) also acts as a host and vector. 

1Williams-Newkirk, A. J., Rowe, L. A. 4 , Mixson-Hayden, T. R, and Dasch, G. A. 2014.
Characterization of the Bacterial Communities of Life Stages of Free
Living LoneStar Ticks (Amblyomma americanum). PLOS ONE 9: 1-15.

Tick development

Ticks generally have at least 3 life stages: larvae, nymph, and adult.

  • Larvae are not likely carriers.
  • Nymphs are believed to be the most common carrier of Lyme disease for a couple of reasons.
  • First, nymphs are out at the height of the summer when most people are vacationing and active outside.
  • Secondly, because of their poppy seed size, nymphs are more likely to be overlooked than adults.
  • Finally, nymphs are more abundant than adults ticks.
  •  Adult ticks are also carriers of disease.

Where you will find ticks

Nymphs are most likely waiting in leaf litter in the woods or on the edge of woods, or even in your yard.  This is why I recommend cleaning up piles of leaves.  From the leaf piles the nymphs will likely attach a mouse, chipmunk or human.  Once they feed, they will drop off the victim, fall back into a warm animal burrow or nest for the winter, molt and emerge as an adult the following spring.

Adults search for a hot body while hanging off of the edge of a leaf by its back legs (about 3 feet off of the ground).  They typically find and leap for a deer, dog or human.  Just like the nymphs, they will seek a body location that is dark and moist (e.g. armpit or hair line).

Once engorged, nymphs fall off of their hosts to the ground where they molt into adults.  While on the hosts the females feed while the males mate with one or more females and then dies.  After engorging the females drop to the forest floor, lay up to 3000 eggs.  If adults did not feed in the fall, they may overwinter, feed, and mate in the spring.

Timing, aka seasonality

The life stages of ticks vary, they are not all out at all times of the spring, summer, and fall.  It would be best to know the pattern in your area so you know where and when to be the most cautious. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION

Tick testing

Because tests for lyme disease are unreliable, it may be best to have a tick that is removed tested for bacteria. Again, as sited in published resources, both black-legged and lone star ticks are carriers of the Lyme disease bacteria.  CLICK HERE FOR WHERE TO SEND YOUR TICK FOR TESTING

Ecology of Ticks by Dr. Rick Ostfeld



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