A partially engorged Ixodes scapularis (blacklegged tick or deer tick) nymph.
There are 3 main species of human biting ticks where we live. All of them come in small, medium and large size. As ticks blood feed, all ticks start to become super-sized. That's when they also can transmit disease-causing germs. Deer ticks can give you Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. American dog ticks can give you Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. Lone Star ticks can give you ehrlichiosis. That's why knowing what kind of tick is biting YOU can help determine YOUR disease risk AND the best treatment*.
Each stage (small=larvae; medium=nymph; large=adult) of each species has it's own season of activity. You can keep track of which ticks are active in your area RIGHT NOW.
The Tick Infection Rate (TIR) is the proportion of ticks in an area infected with a particular type of pathogen. The TIR varies significantly by species, tick stage, and region. The probability that the tick biting YOU is infected, and therefore dangerous, depends largely on the abundance of each type of tick and the TIR. Testing ticks for infection may help determine YOUR course of action.
Your risk for infection also depends on how long the tick was attached and feeding. A general rule of thumb for tick-transmitted infections is that there is a time delay between tick attachment (biting) and effective pathogen transmission. This depends mostly on the pathogen/parasite being transmitted, and to a lesser degree on the immune status of the tick-bite victim. It's ALWAYS best to remove ticks as soon as possible after finding them attached.
When you find them, ticks can be full-sized or tiny. And they can be attached in some very “curious” places. Using the wrong tool to remove them, like a blunt tweezer or scoop-like device increases the chances of tearing the tick or squeezing germs from the tick into the bite during removal. Some attachment sites may be too “sensitive” or the location too protected to access with certain devices. And it is NEVER a good idea to use hot matches or other hot objects
To safely remove a biting tick, first disinfect the tick bite site with rubbing alcohol (unless around the eye). Using pointy tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Once you've grabbed the tick firmly, apply a slow, steady upward-pulling motion to help avoid breaking the tick's mouthpart. Don't worry though if it breaks off and remains in your skin. Transmission of tick-borne germs is NOT possible without the tick's body attached to its mouth. Finish by disinfecting the area again.
It's important to remove ticks as soon as possible to reduce the likelihood of pathogen transmission. Numerous experimental and empirical studies have documented transmission delays following tick attachment for a number of tick-borne pathogens. For example, the probability of Lyme disease infection in mice and hamsters is greatly reduced when ticks are removed within 36-48 hrs, and most studies agree that no transmission was observed when ticks were removed within 24 hrs.
Removal of Borrelia burgdorferi infected nymphal blacklegged ticks attached for 48 hrs using pointy tweezers and “gentle pressure” resulted in the lowest rate of infection in mice
(26%)[safest - TERC recommended], followed by crushing the attached tick with the tweezers before removal (30%) [less safe]. Both
methods reduced the likelihood of infection over delaying tick removal (70%)[not safe]. (Piesman J, Dolan M. 2002. Protection against Lyme disease spirochete transmission provided
by prompt removal of nymphal Ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae).
Read abstract @ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=piesman%20j%20j%20med%20entomol%202002)
Other studies have evaluated some of the most popularly reported “sure-fire”, “works every time” tick removal methods. TERC recommends just saying NO to strategies like covering ticks with Vaseline, nail polish, nail polish remover, gasoline, dish soap & cotton, or hot matches. Using various key and scoop devices work sometimes and not others. SO, WHY NOT JUST GET SOME POINTY TWEEZERS?
Needham GR. 1985. Evaluation of five popular methods for tick removal.
Read @ http://www.afpmb.org/sites/default/files/pubs/techguides/tg26/files/Tick_Removal.pdf
Pitches DW. 2006. Removal of ticks: a review of the literature.
Read @ http://www.lymeneteurope.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=3292
The season of GREATEST activity for adult blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks- Ixodes scapularis) starts in October and continues until the ticks are either buried under snow or frozen into the ground. Once the ground is frozen in the eastern and mid-western United States, adult deer tick encounter risk does go down. But BE AWARE that these ticks will become active again whenever the ground thaws! And winter IS the peak season for western blacklegged ticks (Ixodes pacificus) on the west coast.
Every stage and species of tick has their own SEASON OF ACTIVITY. To avoid dangerous tick bites, it's important to know when and which ticks are active in your area.
Adult deer ticks become active in October and tend to last through mid-May. Because their preferred hosts are all types of deer, they tend to climb up vegetation to a height of 1 - 2 ft, hoping to latch on as a deer walks by. But they'll latch on to you or your dog, cat, or horse as well; latch on and crawl up under un-tucked shirts. Adult deer ticks are usually found biting anywhere above the waist.
Once temperatures are regularly below freezing, and especially once the ground freezes or is snow-covered, adult deer ticks no longer can muster enough energy to seek hosts. THEY'RE NOT KILLED, and they DO become re-activated during extended winter thaws. Once the earth begins to thaw out for good in late February or March, adult deer ticks resume seeking hosts and blood feeding.
In the Fall, hunting, hiking on trails, raking and hauling leaves, looking for golf balls in the rough, even walking the dog along tree-lined roads, paths and sidewalks are all common activities that help adult deer ticks find you! Protect your pets using spot-on products with rapid killing or detachment action. Protect yourself and your family by wearing permethrin-treated pants and shirts. And tuck your shirt in, too!
Wearing permethrin-treated clothing is the easiest and most effective way to repel all species of ticks and prevent tick bites and disease. Since all ticks crawl UP, a TickSmart™ Best Practice is to think about building your personal tick-bite protection from the ground up. When ticks are hidden in leaf-litter, like larval and nymphal deer ticks during summer, wearing treated shoes and socks is a good first-line defense, and adding treated pants/shorts increases your protection. When the ticks are lurking on grass or low hanging branches a few feet off the ground (American dog ticks, Lone Star ticks, adult deer ticks, Pacific Coast ticks), then wearing treated pants/shorts and a treated shirt will provide the best protection. Remember to tuck your shirt in to keep ticks on the outside of your clothing.
Ticks don't fall out of trees but some of the more aggressive species, like Lone Star, Gulf Coast, Wood , and American Dog tick adults may crawl all the way up to your head, so wearing a treated hat may be somewhat helpful when those ticks are active. Of course, it would be best to STOP the ticks as they climb up over your body, because only they know where they will stop and latch on.
Geography, habitat type, and season of the year are all factors that determine the species and development stage of the ticks you might encounter. And each tick seems to have it's own peculiar host-seeking behavior that generally determines just where it ends up on you! That's a lot of "Getting TickSmart" to Stay TickSafe.
TickEncounter has all kinds of tools to help but sooner or later, if you go outside, you're likely to encounter a tick. Be ready -- by wearing permethrin-treated tick repellent clothing, especially during the most dangerous seasons. Today, tick protection technology makes it much easier to be TickSafe even when you think you're not at risk. Incredibly, commercially treated clothing (purchased new or Insect Shield your own) is effective even after 70 washes. Treat your own kits and sprays can last through 5 or 6 washes. Spraying shoes and gardening gloves with permethrin repels ticks for 3-4 weeks.
PARENTS: Protect your children from ticks after school or while at camp. Purchase or treat 4 or 5 of their favorite play outfits so they always choose to wear tick repellent clothing when going outside. At about $8 per item, it's relatively inexpensive insurance against potentially life-altering disease. See our "Should I Wear Tick Repellent Clothing" app to calculate the margin of safety when wearing permethrin-treated tick repellent clothing.
Here's something to think about. Back in the day (go way back to the Dark Ages), clothing was drab. But now, it's colorful! We call them dyes; chemicals to make clothes colorful and fun. With permethrin clothing treatment technology, now we can make colorful and fun clothing TickSafe as well. The best tick-bite protection, now as EASY AS GETTING DRESSED IN THE MORNING. We live in GREAT times, don't we, despite the current tick plague (and global warming).
Many people think that since they found a tick on top of their head, that ticks must fall out of trees. The fact of the matter is that ticks don't drop from trees, or fly, or jump! They're not generally being blown about by the wind either. The most likely way for a tick to get on your head is for it to CRAWL THERE - over your entire body - from where it latched on, most commonly on your pant legs.
It's typically the adult stages of ticks found embedded in the scalp or at the hairline, especially the more aggressive species, like Lone Star ticks, Gulf Coast ticks, Wood ticks , and American Dog tick. Occasionally, people find nymphs of these ticks or adult deer ticks at the hairline but infrequently on top of the head.
It's possible that if your pet sleeps with you, the tick attached to your head may have been brought to you unsuspectingly from outside by your pet. People often hold their cats and smaller dogs on their shoulders, and any ticks still crawling through the fur could easily just switch hosts.
All ticks crawl up as an adaptive behavior, a form of positive geotropism not associated with light. Once on a host, they crawl up towards the head region where there's usually thinner skin, greater vascularization, and perhaps less likelihood of being groomed or accidentally brushed off. Once it is latched on, ticks need to stay attached for days to complete their bloodmeal; if attaching near the head increases their blood-stealing success, then positive geotropism must give a strong selective advantage to those ticks that practice it. And those that don't, well those genes are quickly lost through natural selection.
Still don't believe us? Then please consider this: all ticks need to find a host to steal blood from. To do this most efficiently they are most likely going to be waiting for those hosts at a height that will optimize the tick encounter. Most natural hosts of ticks are small to medium-sized mammals that move through their habitats anywhere from centimeters to half a meter above the ground. Even the haunches and underbelly of a deer is less than a meter from the ground. So, biologically it makes sense for the ticks to wait for their hosts at about that height When humans accidentally encounter these ticks (waiting for their preferred hosts), the ticks latch on about shoe to knee high and crawl up from there.
Nymphal blacklegged ticks carrying the agents of Lyme disease, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis in the eastern and mid-western U.S. are joined by adult American dog ticks carrying the agents of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, especially in the south Atlantic and Mountain regions. Nymphal and adult Lone Star ticks carrying the agent of ehrlichiosis also are most abundant during May - July.
But that doesn't mean you can forget about ticks the rest of the year, especially in the Fall. Adult blacklegged ticks carrying Lyme, babesia, and anaplasma are exceptionally abundant in October - December and again from February - April, while nymphs and adults of western blacklegged ticks transmitting the agent of Lyme disease are most abundant from January - April.
Just because you don't see the ticks, doesn't mean they aren't present or even abundant. This is especially true in deer tick country during May - July, where we often hear statements like, "the ticks were really bad in the early spring (March - April) but then I hardly saw any all summer." For example, during the summer of 2012 in Rhode Island, our nymphal deer tick surveillance revealed that these ticks were 100% more abundant than the previous year and the 5-year average, yet people mentioned all of the ticks they saw during the spring (adult deer ticks, Am. dog ticks) but not the plague-level of nymphs in the summer. It seems that "seeing is believing".
This is an important point, because for most people to be willing to take appropriate preventive actions (wear tick repellent shoes and clothing, do yard tick treatments, do daily tick checks), they need to believe that they are at risk - and if you're not seeing the ticks, then, "where's the risk"?
Every tick species and stage has their own SEASON OF ACTIVITY. To avoid dangerous tick bites, it's important to know when and which ticks are active in your area. Being TickSmart and knowing this, then taking seasonally appropriate preventive actions is the best way to Stay TickSafe!