Blacklegged Ticks

Active Seasons

Illustration representing the spring season
Illustration representing the summer season
Illustration representing the winter season
Illustration representing the fall season

Appearance and Size Facts

  • Blacklegged ticks are Hard ticks that are dark brown to black to reddish-brown in color
  • Adults exhibit sexual dimorphism - males are dark brown to black with no markings on the body, while females have a dark brown to black scutum (shield covering the top part of the back) covering half of the body, while the other half of the body is a reddish-brown coloration
  • Size: Adults are roughly 1/10 inch in length when unfed
  • Found all year-round

Behavior and Habitat of Blacklegged Ticks

Blacklegged ticks are are three-host feeders, meaning that a host is fed during the larval, nymphal, and adult life stages, between molting. Although different hosts are fed upon, Blacklegged ticks are, in general, aggressive and generalist feeders in all stages, with younger ticks feeding on small mammals and older ticks feeding on larger mammals. After the female feeds in the adult stage, she will begin depositing roughly 1,000 to 3,000 eggs, usually in leaf litter, on the floor of a heavily wooded area, or where she dropped from her host. Once eggs hatch, larvae go through a resting period and then begin searching for a host through questing. Peak seasonality occurs for particular life stages only. The entire tick population is always active on days where ambient and ground temperatures are above freezing, meaning that population seasonality is geographically dependent. Blacklegged ticks are found on the east coast of the United States, from Florida to Texas, north to Minnesota, Iowa, and Maine. Its distribution is correlated to the distribution of its primary host, the white-tailed deer.

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Signs of Infestation of Blacklegged Ticks

Blacklegged ticks are most famously known to vector Lyme Disease. However, it is also known to vector Human Babesiosis and Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA), formerly known as Human Granulocytic Ehrlichiosis (HGE). Human exposure to Blacklegged ticks is greatest in summer months when high populations of nymphal ticks and outdoor activities coincide. Lyme Disease occurs sporadically in the southern United States and is considered to be low risk. Most of the cases established in the southern United States were actually infected in the northeast. In Florida, an average of 18 cases of Lyme Disease (from those not travelling outside of the state) were reported to state officials within a 7 year period. In Florida, Lyme Disease and STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness) can both occur, with very similar symptoms, except for a whole-body rash which only occurs with STARI.

An illustration representing a warning sign for bug infestation

Tips for Prevention of Blacklegged Ticks

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 and 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 portions 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, as well as post-removal disease symptoms.

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Blacklegged Tick Gallery

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Photograph of blacklegged tick number 2
Photograph of blacklegged tick number 3

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