Ticks: What to Watch For

As winter approaches and many insects become dormant, ticks remain active despite the dropping temperatures. As ticks are notorious for spreading illnesses such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia, being able to identify ticks is important for your safety.

Like spiders, ticks are arachnids and have eight legs. Ticks most commonly found in the Midwest belong to the ‘hard tick family’ which means that, when unfed, they are flat and have a tough exterior. As adults, ticks can be identified by keeping an eye out for a scutum, or a round, black or brown shield that is located on their back.

In the Midwest, there are twenty species of ticks; however, only four are commonly encountered: the American dog tick, the deer tick or black legged tick, the lone star tick, and the brown dog tick. The health risks associated with each species varies, so it is helpful to be able to identify the four types:

American Dog TickThe American dog tick is the most common tick in Illinois and usually feeds on small mammals such as dogs. Occasionally, it will bite people and can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. These ticks are identified by the jagged silvery white lines on the center of their back. Additionally, they have festoons, or small areas around the rear margin of their back separated by short grooves.

Deer Tick/Black Legged Tick – The deer tick has long, narrow mouthparts that are visible from above the tick. Their bodies range in color from dark brown to red, while their legs are black. These ticks can spread Lyme disease along with Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis.

Lone Star Tick – The lone star tick also has festoons. It is distinguished by white markings on the rear margin of the tick’s back or by a single white spot in the center of its back. The lone star tick can spread tulameria, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Monocytic Ehrlichiosis and ‘Stari’ borreliosis.

Brown Dog Tick– The brown dog tick is oval and has shorter, thicker mouthparts that those previously discussed. It is commonly found in kennels and other areas where dogs live, due to the fact that it feeds primarily on dogs. This tick rarely bites or transmits disease to people, however it is the only one that can reproduce indoors.

Being able to identify ticks is a valuable skill for those who spend any time outdoors or have pets. If bitten, remove the tick properly and save it after removal by sealing it in closed container with a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Schedule an appointment with your primary physician. It is often possible to submit the tick for testing to confirm the species. The best method of reducing health risks posed by ticks is to reduce your exposure by wearing protective clothing and performing frequent tick checks when spending time outdoors.

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