Ticked Off by Ticks

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Article by: Ashley Kulhanek and Christine Gelley


Ticks are on the move!  Be sure to check yourself and your pets as tick reports ramps up!


While spring is a peak time for tick reports, many ticks are active year-round when temperatures allow.  Now that temperatures are picking up and we are getting out where we can, tick reports have been coming in.


tick crawling on a hand
PHOTO: DEER TICK, 3/23/2020 



As anyone who has had the misfortune of finding a tick embedded knows, ticks are blood-feeding parasitic arthropods.  Ticks are NOT insects.  Ticks and mites have only two body segments (cephalothorax and abdomen) that appear as one round body and 8 legs.  Ticks are in the order Ixodida.



These little devils are found in a variety of wooded to grassy environments and feed off the blood of reptiles, birds, and mammals including humans.  Ticks are pests of significance that can impact the health and well-being of people, their pets and livestock.   In Ohio there are 3 species of medical-importance known to vector diseases to humans:  the American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Deer Tick, A.K.A Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes scapularis), and the Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum).



There are other species of tick in Ohio too, notably the brown dog tick, a relatively uncommon tick that has the ability to complete its entire lifecycle indoors where dogs are present.  Most other species are not pests of humans, are less common, and are not considered significant vectors of disease in Ohio at present.




Here in Medina, people often bring the American Dog Tick to the Extension Office for identification.  



The American Dog Tick, (Dermacentor variabilis) is the most common and largest tick in Ohio.  This species has a distinct mottled scutum, or back plate, that makes identification a little easier.



american dog tick under magnification



American Dog Tick is most likely to be found in grassy, pasture, or meadow-type habitats, often along the edges of paths and roads.  The transition zone between forest/shrub habitat and grassy habitat is a prime location to find American Dog Tick.  During this time of social distancing, many people are escaping to parks to exercise and walk their pets.  These areas along park paths where tall grass or brush is present are prime locations to pick up ticks, especially American dog tick, so take care to check yourself and pets upon returning from outdoor activity and use appropriate tick-prevention on your pets.    American Dog Tick populations peak April through mid-July so start tick checking!





On the other hand, Deer Ticks are active 12 months out of the year and can be found even during winter when temperatures allow.  Several have been pulled off fellow Extension Educator Christine and her family these past weeks so it was time to put out the alert! 


The Deer Tick or Black-Legged Tick is the most notorious of ticks as it is known to vector Lyme Disease.  But Lyme is not the only disease it may carry or transmit!  Any tick could carry several different disease organisms at once and can transmit multiple disease organisms while feeding. 


Deer tick favors forested habitats.  As an immature tick or nymph, deer ticks may feed on a variety of forest-dwelling animals such as mice.  As adults, they tend to feed on larger mammals including deer.  Any stage can feed on humans, which is challenging when self-inspecting for tick attachment.  Larval and nymphal Deer Ticks are often translucent to clear grayish-brown until they feed and grow.  Young ticks can be the size of a poppyseed and may go unnoticed.  Adult Deer Ticks are a chocolate brown and is smaller in size than American Dog Tick.  Male Deer Tick measure about 1/16 inch and females around 3/32 inch.   When engorged the female can appear grey in color.



Deer Tick
PHOTO: DEER TICK 3/23/2020
Engorged Deer Tick




A common misconception is that ticks FLY or jump out of trees to land on their unsuspecting victim.  Ticks CANNOT FLY and do not possess wings.  Instead, Ticks exhibit QUESTING behavior.  Ticks will climb up to the top of a blade of grass or out to the edge of brush where they hang on with their hind legs and throw their front legs in the air "and wave them like they just don't care". 


tick questing for host
PHOTO: Female American Dog Tick exhibiting questing behavior, courtesy Bugwood.org



They are waiting for a host to walk by.  They will attach to any hair, shoelace, or clothing that brushes close enough for them to hitch a ride.   This means ticks often attach lower to the ground and climb upward to find an attachment point on the skin.  This habit of climbing up is how we often find ticks behind ears or in our hair.  This behavior is also why a common tick-prevention strategy is to tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants.  The tick will have to cover more ground before finding an attachment point hopefully being noticed before it embeds to feed.



tick embedded in child's scalp



So what do you do if you find an engorged tick as above?  First, please avoid folk-remedies for removing ticks.  The best strategy is to use tweezers or a tick-removal tool to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible near its mouthparts.  Pull straight outward with steady even force. Don't twist or yank. This may risk leaving mouthparts embedded in the skin.  If you have questions or other concerns, consult a medical professional.  The primary goal is to remove the tick as soon as possible.  The longer it remains attached, the higher the risk of disease transmission.  After removal, clean and disinfect the bite site and SAVE THE TICK!  



tick in jar



It is important to save the tick in a container for proper identification.  Your healthcare provider may want to identify the tick or have it sent away to test for the presence of disease causing germs.  You yourself may send a tick to be tested too.  Some private labs will assist in identifying and testing ticks for the presence of disease organisms including the University of Massachusetts Amherst of Medical Zoology.   Find out more at tickreport.com, the UMASS website for tick testing.  Cost is $50.00.



mailing label for tick testing



The Extension Office in your county is an excellent resource for tick and insect identification.  During this period of social distancing, physical Extension Offices are closed at the time of this posting.  HOWEVER! We are still here for you!  Extension Educators are working virtually and are able to answer your questions or identify insects and ticks by photo sent to your county educator's email, sent to one of the writers on BYGL, or through ASK AN EXPERT at http://extension.osu.edu/ask-an-expert.   


For more information on these and other ticks, check out the OSU Factsheet on ticks.

TICKENCOUNTER.ORG through the University of Rhode Island is the ultimate resource for all things ticks including detailed photos of all stages of tick development.  Check them out!



Enjoy the outdoors friends, and check for ticks!



SHOWN HERE: Tick causing the shameful waste of our precious TP resources!!!!! GASP!  ;)

Tick on TP


Join us for PART 2 to learn about the Lone Star Tick and more...