FLORIDA TICKS & MITES
A source for information on ticks
Deer Tick Ixodes scapularis
Deer ticks, or Ixodes scapularis, are also known as blacklegged ticks. These ticks are often mistaken for
brown dog ticks. Named for their propensity to feed on white-tailed deer, these ticks may also choose other large
mammals as hosts, including humans. Humans, considered accidental hosts of deer ticks, may contract Lyme disease
from contact. Livestock and domestic animals can also be hosts. Deer ticks were first collected in Massachusetts in
the 1920′s. They have since been found in various areas of the Northeast, the Midwest, the southeast, Mexico, and
Deer ticks begin life as eggs and develop through larval and nymphal stages before becoming adults. Females lay
eggs in suitable areas close to vegetation. Larvae hatch and immediately begin searching for hosts, which tend to
be small animals such as mice. It is during this larval feeding stage that ticks contract diseases such as Lyme
disease, babesiosis and human anaplasmosis. These diseases are transmitted to hosts during the nymphal and adult
Deer ticks prefer to dwell in wet, bushy areas. They are found on leaves and plant life along paths frequented
by their hosts. When hosts brush against these plants, deer ticks grab their fur or clothing.
Tiny in size with adults measuring 1/8-inch, while young nymphs may be pinhead-sized.
Dark brown to black body and darker legs.
Like all ticks, the black-legged tick is a bloodsucking ectoparacite. Ticks require a blood meal at each
stage of life in order to grow and the female will engorge herself with blood to obtain the nourishment
necessary to produce the thousands of eggs she will lay soon. Commonly known as the deer tick, black-legged
ticks have a two-year cycle beginning in the spring when the female tick deposits her eggs. Despite the
thousands of eggs produced, only a small percentage will survive to maturity.
Black-legged ticks are the primary vector of Lyme Disease in the Eastern U.S. and are common in wooded areas
and fields where mammalian hosts such as deer, rodents and humans live. The tiny larvae get their first blood
meal from rodents, mainly the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus.
Ticks imbed their mouthparts, not their entire head, as some commonly believe, into their host. They inject an
anti-clogging agent to keep the blood from clotting so they can feed. During feeding, black-legged ticks may
inject the spirochete bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme Disease. Due to the small size of this
tick, its presence can go unnoticed for several days if the tick is attached in an inconspicuous area of the
body, such as on the back or under the hair on the head. This increases the potential for transmission of
disease if the tick itself is infected.
Lyme Disease -- Lyme disease was first detected in 1976 in Lyme, Connecticut when an
unusually large number of children suffering from similar symptoms came down with an unidentified illness later
found to be transmitted by the black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis. In 1981 the causative pathogen, a
spirochete named Borrelia burgdorferi, was isolated and confirmed as the cause.
Studies have shown that 90 percent of the black-legged ticks may be infected with B. burgdorferi in parts of
northeastern states. Lyme Disease most often begins with the appearance of a spreading rash at the site of the
bite. This rash, called erthema chronicum migrans or ECM, is seen in about 60 percent of patients. Most victims
of Lyme Disease report a flu-like illness at first, and often dismiss the symptoms as a “24 hour bug,”
overexertion or lack of rest. Lyme Disease is very difficult to diagnose because each victim’s symptomatology
can be different.
Three distinct stages of Lyme Disease have been described, but these stages may not appear in all patients, may
overlap, or often may occur out-of-sequence. The different stages may mimic the symptomatology of other
diseases further conflicting correct diagnosis. Stage One involves the ECM rash and the flu-like illness. Stage
Two involve neurological and cardiac problems. The disease can cause malfunctions in the electrical signals to
the heart and has caused doctors to install pacemakers in some patients. Stage Three results in arthritic
conditions in various joints. Unlike typical arthritis, Lyme Disease may only affect one side of the body or
only one or two joints.
Black-legged ticks are also carriers of a disease called human granulocytic erlichiosus or HGE. Some persons
infected with Lyme Disease have also contracted HGE, possibly as the result of the same tick bite. For more
information regarding tick-bourne diseases, visit the website of the Centers for
Disease Control .
Black-legged ticks are primarily found in the Eastern U.S. and are particularly common in the Northeast.
They frequent wooded areas and fields and are more common around homes and buildings in secluded or rural
areas. Unlike the brown dog tick, this species is rarely found living indoors. If inside, it will generally be
discovered on dogs or cats. As their name implies, adult deer ticks prefer to feed on deer.
However, they are capable of infesting other livestock, including cattle and horses. Nymphal and larval deer
ticks choose small animals, such as white-footed mice, as hosts. Because they dwell near the skin of the host,
they are often masked by the affected animal’s hair and are not easily detectable. Lyme disease is transmitted
during a bite, but symptoms usually appear later.
Deer ticks are found in wooded areas and prefer to feed upon the blood of white-tailed deer. These ticks
wait on leaves and grass blades lining paths frequented by their hosts of choice, and will attach themselves to
any passing host they find. As a result, humans often become accidental hosts of deer ticks, as well.
Although it may appear difficult at first to distinguish between the two, deer ticks and wood ticks differ
greatly in size: the mature deer tick measures approximately half the size of the wood tick. As such, wood
ticks are found more easily on their hosts and are typically removed in a timely manner.
While the Rocky Mountain wood ticks are known transmitters of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, tick
paralysis, and ehrlichiosis, they are not known as carriers of Lyme disease. Deer ticks are notorious for being
the chief vector of Lyme disease in humans and animals.
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. Bayer-Aventis is introducing the
Maxforce™ Tick Control System that can be placed in wooded areas frequented by white-footed mice which are the
principal hosts for black-legged ticks. Mice enter tamper-resistant stations to feed on a nontoxic bait block
and, in doing so, make contact with an insecticide-treated strip. The insecticide, fipronil, transfers to the
mouse’s fur and kills any ticks present on the mouse and any new ticks that may try to attach themselves to the
mouse later. (Fipronil is used for on-animal treatment products called Frontline™ to control fleas and ticks on
dogs and cats.) The Maxforce™ System demonstrates the ability to significantly reduce the presence of ticks in
an area. In studies conducted thus far, the best results are seen after several years of consistent use. This
system is currently finalizing its registration with the EPA and should be available through professional pest
control companies this year. The system is best suited for homes and buildings bordered by wooded lots. 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 cream.