American Dog Ticks
Appearance and Size Facts
- American dog ticks are hard ticks that are brown to reddish-brown in color with silver to white coloration on the scutum (shield covering the top part of the back)
- Adults exhibit sexual dimorphism – males are almost completely marked with a silver to white coloration, while females are mainly a brown to reddish-brown coloration with some white on the scutum
- Males also have a scutum that covers nearly the entire top of the body, while females have a scutum that covers roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the body
- Size: Adult females are roughly 1/5 inch in length when unfed, while adults males are slightly smaller, around 1/7 inch in length, when unfed
Behavior and Habitat of American Dog Ticks
American dog ticks are are three-host feeders, meaning that a host is fed upon during the larval, nymphal, and adult life stages, between molting. The larval tick prefers small mammals, such as mice. The nymphal tick prefers medium mammals, such as raccoons or opossums, and the adult tick prefers large mammals, such as dogs or humans. After the female feeds in the adult stage, she will begin depositing anywhere between 4,500 to 6,000 eggs in the soil. Once eggs hatch, larvae begin searching for a host through questing. Larvae can live up to 11 months without a blood meal, while nymphs and adults can live up to 6 months and 2 years, respectively, without feeding. Seasonality peaks at different times throughout different areas of the country. In Florida, activity peaks from April under September, while other geographic regions may experience peaks in activity throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall months.
American dog ticks can be found in approximately 2/3 to 3/4 of the United States. They are found from Montana, south to the border of Texas and Mexico, and areas east. They are also found in California, west of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains. The heaviest populations are found from New England, south to Florida. American dog ticks occur mostly in wooded, overgrown, and high-grass areas, although it is not uncommon for residential landscapes to become infested.
Signs of Infestation of American Dog Ticks
American dog ticks vector Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), Tularemia, and Canine Tick Paralysis. RMSF is transmitted mainly by adult ticks, as larvae and nymphs rarely attack humans. This disease can be fatal if left untreated, but requires the tick to be attached for approximately 6-8 hours, and rarely, up to 24 hours, for disease tranmission. Canine Tick Paralysis occurs from feeding of the tick. It can occur in dogs, but also in small children. Once the feeding tick is removed, symptoms will usually disappear within 1 to 3 days.
Tips for Prevention of American Dog Ticks
Maintain grass at a short, but acceptable level, remove rodent and other pest harborages, and sealing cracks/crevices can reduce tick populations on the property. Removal of tall weeds and grasses will reduce humidity in these microclimates, making them undesirable for ticks, and will also reduce the height of areas to where larval ticks can begin questing. Wearing a repellent product on clothing and skin may help to prevent tick questing, and is considered the best prevention by the Centers for Disease Control. Wearing light colored clothing, inspecting clothing and shoes, inspecting pets, inspecting your body, and showering after being in tick-prone areas are all recommended for prevention. Using a prescription or over-the-counter acaricide for dogs or cats can also help to reduce tick populations. Before using an acaricide, consult a veterinarian before choosing a particular product. If bitten by a tick, the tick should be removed using forceps rather than your fingers, and should be removed slowly, using a straight, pulling motion. Be careful to remove all portion of the mouthparts, as they are covered in backward-facing spines to help keep the tick attached to the host. After removing the tick, wash the area thoroughly and keep a watchful eye for post-removal infections.