The most difficult part of identifying a tick is knowing what to look for. First is to recognize if the pest is a tick, then determine what group the tick belongs to. It sounds simple enough but proves difficult because ticks are small and difficult to see without the help of a magnifier. We encounter most ticks after they’ve attached and fed for some amount of time. One aspect of ticks that amazes people and leads to mis-identification is a tick can enlarge itself 20-50 times its size when engorged with blood and look nothing like itself before engorgement. It makes it hard to believe that it’s even the same pest!
The Lone Star Tick
The Lone Star tick is a common type of tick mainly found in the south central and south eastern parts of the US, although recently the species has spread across a larger area of the country. The female of the species is easily distinguishable by the white star shaped spot on its back, which acts as part of its shield. A male lone star will not have the white spot and will instead have some spotting along its back. Both the male and female species are a reddish brown color in the adult stage. When feeding, they attach themselves onto their host and use a salivary fluid in their mouth as anesthetic so that when they suck blood, the host will not feel it. This species of tick readily attach themselves and feed on dogs, other household pets and humans.
The American Dog Tick
The American Dog ticks are found predominantly in areas with little or no tree cover, such as grassy fields and scrub-land, as well as along walkways and trails. They feed on a variety of hosts ranging in size from mice to deer. The adult American Dog ticks commonly attack humans and can transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia. American dog ticks can survive for up to 2 years at any given stage if no host is found. Females can be identified by their large off-white markings against a dark brown body. Male American Dog ticks are typically brown to reddish-brown in color with gray or silver markings on their backs.
The Deer/Black-legged Tick
The loathsome deer tick, now known as the black-legged tick, is defined more by the disease it spreads than by its own characteristics. These blood-sucking ticks were vaulted into the public consciousness in the 1970’s when it was discovered that they are the primary (and possibly only) transmitters for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a debilitating, though rarely fatal, infection that is often misdiagnosed because early symptoms closely resemble the flu. Deer/Black-legged ticks live throughout the central and eastern United States, wherever their favorite hosts, deer and rodents, are present. Significantly smaller than the more commonly encountered American Dog tick, adult female deer ticks are about as big as a sesame seed and have reddish hind bodies with black markings. Males are slightly smaller than females and are a solid dark brown color.
How To Prevent and Repel Ticks
While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, take extra care in warmer months (April-September) when ticks are most active. To avoid direct contact with ticks stay away from wooded and bushy areas with high grass, leaf litter, and make sure to walk in the center of trails. When repelling ticks make sure to use insect repellents that contains 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Products that contain .5% of permethrin are also helpful when preventing ticks on clothing.
How To Find and Remove Ticks From Your Body
Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off, and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair. Examine your gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove a tick. If you don’t have tweezers, put on gloves or cover your hands with tissue paper, then use your fingers. Do not handle the tick with bare hands. Grab the tick as close to its mouth (the part that is stuck in your skin) as you can. The body of the tick will be above your skin. Do not grab the tick around its swollen belly. You could push infected fluid from the tick into your body if you squeeze it. Gently pull the tick straight out until its mouth lets go of your skin. Do not twist the tick. This may break off the tick’s body and leave the head in your skin. Put the tick in a dry jar or ziplock bag and save it in the freezer for later identification if necessary. After the tick has been removed, wash the area of the tick bite with a lot of warm water and soap. A mild dish washing soap, such as Ivory, works well. Be sure to wash your hands well with soap and water also. If for some reason you are unable to remove the tick call your family doctor.
Now that you know how to identify, find, and repel ticks, you should be more than ready to enjoy all your spring and summer activities!