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Blacklegged (Deer) TicksIxodes scapularis
Blacklegged (Deer) Tick Identification
Orange-brown with dark legs
Flat; broad oval
Found primarily in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, southeastern and north central regions of the U.S.
What Do Deer Ticks Look Like?
When unengorged (i.e. not filled with blood), the female blacklegged tick is roughly 1/8”, while male ticks are slightly smaller at about 1/16”. Both male and female deer ticks have flat, oval bodies, and are not hard-shelled. Female deer ticks are orangish brown in color except for their legs, mouthparts, and scutum (shield). Unengorged, their abdomen is a dark reddish-brown color but becomes darker after feeding on a host. Male deer ticks are reddish brown overall.
The blacklegged tick is longer than wide, and its sharply pointed toothed mouthparts are clearly visible from above. Newly hatched unengorged larvae are about 1/32” long and have 6 legs. Unengorged nymphs (baby ticks) are about 1/16” long and have 8 legs.
Signs of an Infestation
The most common sign of a blacklegged tick problem is spotting one in your yard, on your body, or on your pet.
Blacklegged Tick Photos
Photo of a female blacklegged (deer) tick on a blade of grass
Photo of an engorged blacklegged (deer tick) nymph
Photo of a female blacklegged (deer) tick
Photo of a blacklegged (deer) tick to scale on a coin
Photo of three blacklegged (deer) ticks on a white background
Snapshot of the appearance and distribution of blacklegged ticks
Blacklegged (Deer) Tick Prevention
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Deer Tick vs. Dog Tick – What is the Difference?
Deer ticks are much smaller than dog ticks, and their bites are much more dangerous. Deer ticks are roughly 1/8”, about the size of a sesame seed, and have a flat, broad, oval shaped body. Dog ticks on the other hand are much larger, with females growing up to 1/2" after feeding on a host. Deer ticks are notorious for their black legs, which are in contrast with their light-colored bodies, while dog ticks are reddish brown in color with white and yellow markings. Dog ticks are found throughout the continental United States, as well as other regions of the world, while deer ticks are most common in the Northeast region of the United States. For more information on the differences between deer ticks and dog ticks, watch this video.
Blacklegged (Deer) Tick Education
Blacklegged ticks prefer to hide in grass and shrubs while waiting for a passing host. They prefer vegetation located in transitional areas such as where forest meets field, mowed lawn meets unmowed fence line, or a foot trail through high grass or forest as these areas are where most animals travel sometime during each 24-hour period.
The other habitat most likely to harbor blacklegged ticks is the den, nest, or nesting area of its host such as that of skunks, raccoons, opossums, but especially the white-footed mouse. The white-footed mouse prefers woody or brushy areas. It nests in any place that gives shelter such as below ground, in stumps, logs, old bird or squirrel nests, woodpiles, buildings, etc.
During the winter, adult ticks feed primarily on the blood of white-tailed deer. In the spring, a female tick will drop off its host and will deposit about 3,000 eggs. Nymphs, or baby ticks, feed on mice, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, dogs, humans and birds.
A favorite feeding area for these ticks on humans is at the back of the neck, at the base of the skull; long hair makes detection more difficult. However, the ticks will usually crawl about for up to 4 hours or so before they attach. Then, a tick has to be attached for a period of 6-8 hours before a successful transmission can take place.
Blacklegged ticks or deer ticks are the main transmitters of anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a primary concern in the United States. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic bull’s eye-shaped skin rash. Lyme disease can also affect joints, the heart and the nervous system if left untreated. If you have been bitten, deer tick removal should be performed as soon as possible.