Black Legged Ticks

Identification

  • Colour They are orange to reddish-brown in colour, which varies between the male and female ticks
  • Size An adult black-legged tick is oval and about 2 to 3 mm long
  • Also known as Ixodes scapularis
  • Description The body is flattened from top to bottom with visible pointed mouthparts projecting from the front

How to identify Black Legged Ticks

Also commonly referred to as deer ticks, black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are a parasitic arachnid known for spreading disease, primarily Lyme disease. The genus Ixodes refers to ticks with a rigid, hard outer carapace. Depending on the sex, deer ticks can live for about two years. They feed on the blood of mammals, including humans, and other animals.

Unlike the adults which have eight legs, the larvae of black-legged ticks possess six legs and are difficult to see with the unaided eye. Conversely, the nymphs generally have eight legs.

As adults, the hard-bodied ticks exhibit sexual dimorphism, which leads to marked differences in size, colouration, and body structure. Males appear a dark brown or black colour, while females are usually black or brown around the head and dorsal plate and crimson coloured on the abdomen. The males are much smaller than the females. During blood-meal engorgement, adult females may reach up to 10 mm in length and swell significantly.

Black Legged Ticks Removal

Although it is difficult to eliminate all black-legged ticks from areas of concern without the use of pesticides and other chemicals, simple steps like maintaining lawns by consistently mowing and trimming, removing any leaf litter, and keeping pets away from overgrown areas and unprotected woods may help reduce contact with these arachnids. Concerned individuals should seek expert help, such as a pest control professional, if black-legged tick problems become substantial in or around the home.

In the event of a black-legged tick bite, removing the tick with tweezers is considered the best option. Take care to avoid crushing the tick, as doing so may cause the arachnid to regurgitate infected blood. After displacing the tick, cleanse the area with disinfecting soap and water. Dispose of the parasite by saving the tick in a container to turn in to an entomology lab or an exterminator. If disposing of the tick by killing it, it remains important to avoid skin contact with potentially infected blood.

How to prevent Black Legged Ticks from invading

The most common way for a black-legged tick to enter the home environment is by attaching itself to clothing or the fur of a pet. Black-legged ticks generally only survive a few days in dry indoor settings, though the duration may prove long enough for them to bite a person or domesticated animals. Nymphs typically pose the greatest threat, as they are likely to carry bacteria at that life stage but remain too small for humans to easily notice or find. In addition, adult males are not thought to feed, though nymphs of either gender take blood meals and could already harbour bacteria from an infected host.

Habitat, Diet, and Life Cycle

Habitat

Black legged ticks prefer moist locations. They thrive in sheltered forests and leafy underbrush, which provides shade and protection from harsh climate conditions. Potential hosts are also abundant in these types of habitats. Without the capability to jump or fly, black-legged ticks sit and wait on grass and shrub leaves for a host, allowing them to latch onto the host and access their source of food. Black-legged ticks may feed on the blood of over 100 different species of animals including mammals, lizards, and birds. They are widely distributed across the country.

Life Cycle

The life cycle of black-legged ticks normally lasts from two to three years, depending the availability of food and other factors. The process begins in spring, when an adult female deposits eggs onto the ground. The eggs hatch during the summer months, typically in June or July, and the larvae begin their search for a host. After four to nine days the larvae overwinter, then molt into nymphs after one year. Nymphs repeat this cycle and become adults after finding a new host. Males die soon after copulation, while females die shortly after laying the eggs.

Commonly Asked Questions

Do Black Legged Ticks carry diseases?

Black-legged ticks are the primary vector for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete bacterium whose main carriers are white-footed mice in the wild. The mice become infected during the spring by already infected black-legged tick nymphs. Other ticks, which later feed on the infected mice, pick up the pathogens and spread them to other hosts, including humans. The symptoms for Lyme disease vary depending on the clinical stage of the disease and may range from headaches, rashes, fever, aches, and arthritis to heart or nervous complications. Ticks must remain attached for 24 hours or more before transmitting the bacteria. Lyme disease remains largely treatable with antibiotics.

Other diseases the black-legged tick may transmit include encephalitis and babesiosis, a protozoan disease similar to malaria. In isolated sections of woodlands near urban or suburban settings, populations of mice and other rodents run higher due to a lack of predators such as foxes and coyotes. The higher population of mice can create more opportunities for ticks to bite an infected host.

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