It's never too early for tick awareness.
Today, at the Extension Office, a tick sample was brought in for identification. It was an adult male dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis. Ticks are blood-feeding parasites. Three species are medically important in Ohio as a vector of several diseases affecting humans and pets to varying degrees. The American Dog Tick, along with the deer tick (or black-legged tick) and the lone star tick. Tick populations have been an increasing problem in Ohio.
Mature dog ticks can be easier to identify because they have impressive patterning, or ornamentation, on their "shield" known as a scutum. Female scutum are smaller and take up only 1/3 of the back, but still distinctly patterned. These ticks are most often found along grassy areas adjacent to woody or shrubby areas. This is common along roads, trails and bike paths. They will wait atop grass blades and other vegetation until an animal passes by and then they will grasp onto the hairs or clothing and begin climbing upwards until they find exposed skin to begin feeding. This is why ticks are often found on the scalp along the hairline, not because they fell from a tree, but because they climbed upwards until the clothing gave way to exposed skin.
Immature ticks feed on smaller mammals but as they mature they can be found on larger mammals including raccoons, dogs, cats, and humans. Dog ticks are found Spring through Summer but peak April (now!) through July. Females will feed and mate, then drop to the ground to lay eggs and die. Males can remain on the host feeding and mating their whole lives.
Tick prevention is key when going outdoors. As described, ticks climb upwards. Tucking pant legs into socks, shirts into pants, and having tight seals will help keep ticks on clothing and off of skin. This gives hikers more time to examine their clothing and remove ticks before they can attach and feed. For this, light colors are better. Perform a tick check often and when returning home. Bug sprays can also be very effective at repelling ticks, but they must contain at least 25% DEET. "DEET-Free" bug sprays are not effective at repelling ticks. Clothing may also be treated with special clothing bug repellents containing the active ingredient permethrin. Keep in mind these sprays are for clothing ONLY and need to dry before being worn. Find products SPECIFICALLY labelled for treating clothing and follow ALL label instructions to use properly and be safe.
Consult your veterinarian about tick prevention for pets. Ticks can be active YEAR-ROUND.
Contact your physician if you have questions about health or if you believe you were fed on by a tick. Extension offices cannot assist with medical-related questions. Ohio State University does not offer tick testing to determine if one carries pathogens. However a helpful article was written here on BYGL on March 17 about an "Outstanding Resource for Testing Ticks". Check it here to see how you can send a sample away for testing.