The deer tick
is found in grassy areas, open fields, and especially the margin
where fields meet wooded areas. The deer tick transmits a bacteria
which causes Lyme disease, a serious human disease that exhibits
symptoms common to many other diseases. It is initially flu-like
but if not treated can develop into rheumatoid arthritis-type conditions.
Lyme disease is not usually fatal but can be debilitating and difficult
to treat if not detected early.
ticks are tiny--approximately the size of a sesame seed. Males are
black; females have a brick-red abdomen and a black shield near
the head. Females swell to 1/4 mm when fully engorged after feeding.
Adults are found primarily from September through November, and
again in March and April. Adults feed mainly on deer, but will also
attack cattle, horses, dogs, etc. Humans are accidental hosts.
from an egg in late spring, deer ticks go through three life stages:
larva, nymph, and adult. Each stage requires a different host animal.
During each stage a tick feeds only once. Deer ticks need 2 years
to complete their life cycle. The larvae are tan and very small
(about the size of a pin head). They feed in late summer (near ground
level) on mice, shrews, chipmunks, voles, and other small animals.
Newly hatched deer ticks do not initially carry Lyme disease; they
pick it up from an infected animal. The white-footed mouse is the
primary carrier/source of the Lyme disease bacterium. A tick that
picks up the bacterium from feeding will pass it to the next life
stage and is able to infect future host animals. Nymphs are the
size of a poppy seed. They are beige, sometimes appearing transparent
with a dark head. Nymphs feed from May through August on larger
animals including birds, raccoons, opossum, squirrels, cats, dogs
and human beings.
The risk of
being bitten by a deer tick infected with Lyme disease is greatest
in the summer months of June and July when the nymph stage is active.
This is the time of year when people (and notably children) are
most active outdoors. Make a habit of thoroughly checking yourself
and others for the tiny nymph following outdoor activities. The
risk is also high in the fall, when adults are active. However,
the adults are easier to see and remove than the nymphs. If you
live in or have visited an area with a high incidence of ticks,
it is important to know the symptoms of Lyme disease:
* Spreading "bull's-eye" rash from the tick bite
* Swelling and pain in the joints
symptoms mimic many other diseases. About 80 percent of Lyme disease
victims develop a rash within two days to four weeks. If untreated,
more severe symptoms may develop--sometimes months to years later.
If you suspect that you have contracted Lyme disease, consult a
If you find
a tick on your body, remove it AS SOON AS POSSIBLE; ticks must be
attached for 24 hours for the bacteria to be transmitted. To remove
feeding ticks, use tweezers ONLY; do NOT use nail polish, Vaseline,
matches or other methods that may traumatize the tick and cause
it to regurgitate its gut contents. Grasp the tick with tweezers
around its head, close to the skin and pull it up slowly and firmly.
Disinfect the bite afterwards with antiseptic.
outdoors by avoiding walking through tall grass and shrubby areas.
Wear slacks tucked into socks and light colored clothing to make
it easier to detect ticks. Stay close to the center of hiking trails
to avoid brushing against vegetation. Check companions and children
frequently for ticks. Apply repellents such as DEET to shoes, socks
and pants. Keep grass mowed around buildings and in home lawns and
along paths. Remove brush adjacent to trails and public areas which
might serve as animal resting sites.
from Dewey M. Caron, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension,
Image from the Maine Cooperative Extension.