What Does a Tick Look Like? What Tick Is This?
Identifying Ticks of the Eastern US
For those of you who are in the woods all the time you're probably pretty familiar with what a tick looks like. But there are plenty of people who aren't really familiar with what they look like, and let's face it, when you have one on you, you rarely take the time to check it out up close and personal, you just want it OFF! This post is dedicated to some basic tick anatomy (what they look like) and pictures of the ticks that are most commonly found in the Eastern US. I've also created a nice quick table that should help you too.
What Does A Tick Look Like?
Ticks come in a variety of sizes, and colors, but they're in a similar size range, from sesame seed size to about 5 mm. Usually the females are larger than the males, so typically the males "eat" less. Immature ticks, often called "seed ticks" can be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.
Ticks are arthropods (which means "joint-foot") and they are in the arachnid family, along with spiders. Like spiders they have eight legs, with what look like grappling hooks on the ends of their feet for climbing. It's important to note here, the one good thing about ticks is that unlike their spider cousins they can't jump. They only climb, drop, and fall (for those of you that fear jumping spiders, you're welcome).
With that said, ticks are also like spiders because they have a head and a cephalothorax (seph-a-low-thor-ax, or fused rear and middle), and usually tick's body is quite flat, which makes it hard to get off. In the "hard ticks" (mostly what you find in Eastern North America) their cephalothorax is covered by a hard shield over their soft body, called the idiosoma (id-e-o-soma). In males this covers most of the their hind parts, but in females this only covers part of their hind parts and looks like a saddle or shield which can be used to identify them. The size difference in the shields is due to their feeding styles. The hard shield that covers the male's body doesn't allow him to blow up or engorge like the females do. The female needs to eat more to make more eggs, and so her shorter shield moves out of the way when she feeds. If you've ever pulled one off your dog that was about the size of a bloated raisin or grape, that was a female (see below).
As you probably know, ticks feed on blood, they are hematophagous (he-ma-toe-fae-age-us), and they have special mouth parts that help them do this. When you look at the pictures below their mouth bits look somewhat like medieval torture devices.
Ticks have two palps that surround their "straw" and "saw." The two palps are flattish and act sort of like a woodpecker's tail, they help stabilize the tick as it feeds (especially as it swells up and it's creepy little legs come off your scalp). Just inside the palps are the barbed chelicerae (chee-lis-a-ray). They have little saws at the top for cutting your skin, this is "saw" part.
The final part of their mouth is the hypostome, which sounds really close to the word hypodermic...and it is! Of course it can't just be a smooth and narrow tick-sippy straw, nope, it's covered in backward facing barbs, and it's the reason you don't just pull a tick off quickly. If you just yank a tick off of you you're likely to leave it's medieval looking morning-star-sippy- straw in your skin, and risk infection. You have to apply slow, constant pressure (preferably with tweezers) to make the tick tire and let go.
Now there's lots more technical anatomy stuff around ticks, and for the average tick remover, or field researcher most of what you need to know is what color they are, what size, and where they are found. So....
What Do Ticks Look Like?: Tick Pictures
The three most common ticks here in the Eastern US, and our neck of the Eastern Shore, are deer ticks, dog ticks, and lone star ticks. Each has its own preferred habitat and creatures to feed on, but for the most part they are opportunistic, eating what they can. I'm going to post some good photos for you, and below that is a quick reference chart that can help you figure out what you might have crawling around.
DEER TICK (also called black-legged tick)
DOG TICK (also called wood tick)
LONE STAR TICK (also called turkey tick)
TICK CHARACTERISTICS QUICK CHART
|Characteristic||Deer tick||Dog Tick||Lone Star Tick|
|Latin Name||Ixodes scapularis||Dermacentor variabilis||Amblyomma americanum|
|Other common names||Black legged tick, bear tick||Wood tick||Turkey tick|
|Body||Hard bodied||Hard bodied||Hard bodied|
|Description||Brown abdomen, black legs, and black saddle||Reddish brown with grey markings on body; female has white saddle.||Brownish black body, female has white spot on back; males have streaks of white around the edges of their abdomen|
|Size||Adult= sesame seed (1-3 mm)||3-5 mm||3-4 mm|
|Engorged||When it feeds it becomes swollen, with a blueish grey abdomen that can bedome quite large.||When it feeds it becomes swollen, but looks brownish not grey.||Abdomen looks whitish grey, with some grey streaking.|
|Habitat||Woodlands with high humidity||Fields, grassy areas, scrubland (little trees)||Woodlands and grassy areas|
|Main Food Source||White-footed mice and deer||Medium sized hosts, dogs, cats, raccoons, opossums, skunks (feeds on mice when young)||White tailed deer, birds, mid sized mammals; doesn't prefer mice|
|Transmitted Diseases||Lyme, babesiosis, anaplasmosis||Rocky Mountin spotted fever, tularemia (not good vectors of lyme)||Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Ehrlichia ewingii, causing human ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and STARI|
|How long before disease is transmitted||24-48 hours (slow feeders)||Takes 2-14 days for symptoms to occur, feed for 24 hours.||Varies|
|Life cycle||2 years||2 years||2 years|
|Other Info||Frost does not kill deer ticks, can become active as soon as temp is over freezing.||Detects prey by smell and body heat||Often found on wild turkeys|
|Can survive up to 2 years without feeding.|
There are lots of good websites that have information on ticks, ranging from tick removal to tick borne diseases. I don't have time for all of them here, but you can always swing by the Center for Disease Control for more information too.