FLORIDA TICKS & MITES
A source for information on ticks
American Dog Tick Dermacentor variabilis
Ticks are small and reddish-brown in color. Adult ticks have four pairs of legs
and no antennae. Ticks are grouped into two families- “hard ticks” which have a hard, smooth skin and an apparent
head, and “soft ticks” which have a tough, leathery, pitted skin and no recognizable head. Both groups are
parasites of warm-blooded animals and attck humans and animals.
Adult ticks range in size from 1/8-inch to 5/8-inch in length.
Hard ticks usually mate on the host animal, then drops to the ground and deposits 3,000-6,000 eggs that hatch into
larvae. They then climb vegetation and attach to a host, After engorging itself on blood, it drops to the ground,
sheds its skin and emerge as nymphs. Nymphs repeat this process and become adults. Some species feed as larvae,
nymphs, and adults on only one host during the life cycle. While ticks need a blood meal at each stage after
hatching, some species can survive years without feeding.
When feeding, ticks make a small hole in the skin, attach themselves with a modification of one of the mouthparts
which has teeth that curve backwards, and insert barbed piercing mouthparts to remove blood. Like all ticks, the
American dog tick is a bloodsucking ectoparacite. It is often referred to as a wood tick because it is found in
wooded areas where mammalian hosts such as deer, raccoons and possums live. It lives near bodies of water where
animals drink as well. Ticks require a blood meal at each stage of life in order to grow, and the female must
engorge herself with blood to obtain the nourishment necessary to produce the thousands of eggs she lays. Despite
the large number of eggs produced, only a small percentage will make it to maturity. Ticks do not embed their
entire head into a host, only the mouthparts. To keep the blood from clotting, the tick will inject an
anti-clogging agent. Bites from the American dog tick, along with other closely related species, can sometimes
cause a severe reaction. Called tick bite paralysis, it only occurs in a relatively small number of people. These
ticks also can transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease. Important Note: If you
develop a reddish rash around the site of a tick bite, suffer arthritis-like pain in one or more joints, or have
flu-like symptoms that come and go after recently being bitten by a tick, see your physician. The migrating,
“bulls-eye” rash is a key symptom of Lyme Disease, and occurs in about 60 percent of people contracting the
disease. The rash may not appear as the first symptom. Flu-like symptoms, fatigue, neck and head pain, and other
symptoms may occur first or in lieu of the rash. Visit the Center for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov for a full
description of this disease.
The presence of ticks is annoying to dogs and humans. Heavy continuous infestations on dogs cause irritation and
loss of vitality. Pulling ticks off the host may leave a running wound that may become infected because of their
type of attachment.
American dog tick adults and many other species can be found along roads, paths, and trails, on grass, and on other
low vegetation in a "waiting position." As an animal passes by the tick will grasp it firmly and soon start feeding
on its host. The males remain on the host for an indefinite period of time alternately feeding and mating. The
females feed, mate, become engorged, and then drop off to lay their eggs.
Of the ticks found in Florida, the brown dog tick and the American dog tick are the most troublesome. The brown dog
tick rarely bites humans, but infestations are frequently found on dogs and in the home. The American dog tick
attacks a wide variety of hosts, including humans, but rarely will infest homes.
The American dog tick may carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and other diseases from animals to people.
Dogs are not affected by these diseases, but people have become infected by picking ticks from dogs. People living
in areas where these wood ticks occur should inspect themselves several times a day. Early removal is important
since disease organisms are not transferred until the tick has fed for several hours.
The American dog tick is also known to cause paralysis in dogs and children where ticks attach at the base of the
skull or along the spinal column. A toxic secretion produced by the feeding tick can cause paralysis. When the tick
is removed, recovery is rapid, usually within 8 hours. Sensitized animals may become paralyzed by tick attachment
anywhere on the body.
Ticks are also capable of transmitting Lyme disease, but few cases have been reported in Florida. . In cases of
tick bites where Lyme disease is suspected, a physician should be contacted so that appropriate blood tests can be
done for the patient. Most transmission occurs in the Northeast states, and the primary vector is the deer tick.
The deer tick is not prevalent in Florida, but species that are close relatives and are capable of transmitting
Lyme disease are common throughout the state. The American dog tick and the brown dog tick are not considered
important vectors of Lyme disease.
The brown dog tick is not a vector of human disease, but it is capable of transmitting canine piroplasmosis among
There are four stages in a tick’s lifecycle – egg, larvae, nymph and adult. Ticks have only six legs during their
larval stage and eight legs during their nymphal and adult stages. They consume blood meals during all stages.
Pathogens, or organisms that cause diseases in the animals they infect, can be passed through the stages of a
tick’s life cycle.
Ticks should be removed from pets and humans as soon as they are noticed. Ticks should be removed carefully and
slowly. If the attached tick is broken, the mouthparts left in the skin may transmit disease or cause secondary
Ticks should be grasped with tweezers at the point where their mouthparts enter the skin and pulled straight out
with firm pressure. A small amount of flesh should be seen attached to the mouthparts after the tick is removed.
Removal may be slightly painful but should be done immediately.
People entering tick-infested areas should keep clothing buttoned, shirts inside pants, and pants tucked inside
boots. Do not sit on the ground or on logs in bushy areas. Keep brush cleared or burned along frequently traveled
areas. Repellents will protect exposed skin or clothing. However, ticks have been known to crawl over treated skin
to untreated parts of the body.
Ticks are difficult to control, therefore the services of an experienced professional are recommended.
Treatments may be necessary in areas of the yard where ticks are found. The best way to avoid tick bites is to stay
away from tick-infested areas. However, if it is necessary, follow these tips when working or walking in areas
potentially inhabited by ticks:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Light colors are best so ticks are easier to detect.
- Secure the bottom of pants inside socks or tie close around the ankles
- Wear a hat.
- Tuck long hair under a hat.
- Use tick repellent applied to clothing, particularly the lower body and the arms.
- Carefully inspect your body after exiting infested areas. Have another person inspect your backside and
back of your head.
- Wash clothing in warm water and detergent immediately.
- Never throw potentially infested clothing in a hamper with other clothes or onto the floor.
- Protect pets by preventing them from venturing into tick-infested areas or consult your veterinarian for
tick treatment products. Remember, your dog can also contract Lyme Disease.
- Inspect pets carefully for ticks after walking them in wooded areas or fields.
- To remove a tick imbedded in your skin, do not grasp it by the abdomen and pull. You may squeeze its fluids
into your skin, which increases the chances for infection. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick by the
head next to the skin and slowly pull backwards. Working slowly permits the tick to withdraw its mouthparts so
they do not detach and remain in the skin and become infected. Once the tick has been removed, cleanse the area
well with soap and water. You may want to disinfect the bite site with alcohol or apply an antibiotic