Name Deer Tick
Latin Name Ixodes scapularis
Nicknames/common names Black-Legged Tick
Deer Ticks are one of Ontario’s three most common tick species, alongside the Brown Dog Tick and American Dog Tick.
How do you get rid of Deer Ticks?
Deer Ticks are unlikely to infest your home as they prefer to live outdoors. However, thorough checks of clothing, the nape of the neck and scalp, armpits and, groin and knees, pets and objects should be undertaken when returning from risk areas. Since the population of Black-Legged Ticks in Toronto is on the rise, The City of Toronto has instituted an active tick surveillance program in city parks and trails; their 2016 dragging results can be viewed here.
How to identify Deer Ticks
Deer Tick eggs are minuscule and tend to be tan to red-brown. Larvae are usually less than 1 mm. Nymphs are poppy seed sized, usually 1-2 mm long with eight legs, similar-looking although smaller than adult males and nearly translucent. Adult males and females differ in colouration and size; females are significantly larger with a brown scutum, and orange-brown body and the smaller males are brown-red. After feeding, tick bodies become engorged with blood meal and their colour will shift to a rust-brown. An unfed female tick is typically 3-5 mm in length and will expand to 10 mm when engorged with blood meal.
An adult female will feed for about a week before dropping off its host, engorged, to lay upwards of 5000 eggs over the course of a two week period, at the end of which, it dies. After hatching, the larvae have six legs and will immediately begin searching for host bodies, typically rodents and birds, for their first blood meal. It is during this first feeding that diseases are usually contracted, namely Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease). After their first moulting, Black-Legged Ticks in the nymphal stage will have eight legs and will be drawn to larger hosts (deer, humans, dogs and cats) and be capable of spreading disease (about 1 in 5 are carriers). Deer Tick larvae and nymphs are most active in Spring/Summer with the adults being most active in Spring/Fall. A full developmental cycle usually takes about two years, although it will complete in less than one under favourable conditions
Signs of a Deer Tick Infestation
Deer Ticks are unlikely to infest your home as they prefer to live outdoors but are more commonly accidental invaders. Those who frequent tick-infested areas should familiarize themselves with not only tick bites but also symptoms of the diseases that they transmit.
Where did they come from / how did I get them?
Active in temperatures above 4 degrees Celsius and now often populating city parks in addition to the trails of more densely wooded and leaf-littered areas, poppy seed-sized Black-Legged nymphs and even larger adults, are dangerously inconspicuous. Unable to fly or jump, ticks will instead ‘quest’ for hosts. In response to carbon dioxide or heat and vibration stimuli, ticks will climb a blade of grass or move to the edges of leaves, stretch their front legs forward, and mount an unsuspecting host as it brushes past. Once mounted onto its host, a tick will move around the body and select a preferred feeding site typically a warm and moist area around the neck, head, armpits, groin and knees.
What do Deer Ticks eat?
Although white-tailed deer are their preferred host, Black-Legged Ticks will feed on host bodies ranging from mice to humans and are capable of transmitting disease as early as the nymphal stage.
How Serious are Deer Ticks?
Black-legged ticks are vectors of Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis. More recently, Deer Ticks are also responsible for the transmission of the as yet untreatable, potentially fatal and little known, Powassan Virus.
Lyme Disease: About 1 in 5 Deer Ticks in Ontario are vectors of Lyme Disease. Early symptoms include headache, fever, muscle and joint pain, stiffness and fatigue in addition to the development of a bullseye-shaped rash near the bite (occurs in 70-80% of people who contract Lyme). Treated and untreated Lyme Disease symptoms may spread to other parts of the body and result in heart, muscle, joint and nervous system abnormalities that may be life-threatening. A doctor should always be consulted for diagnosis and treatment. You too should become familiar with the symptoms of Lyme disease. More information on Lyme Disease can be found here.
Anaplasmosis: This tick-borne virus is caused by the bacterium, Anaplasma phagocytophilium. Symptoms typically develop 1-2 weeks after being bitten and include fever, headache, muscle pain, malaise, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, confusion and rash, although the well-known bullseye of Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is rare for individuals with Anaplasmosis, making diagnosis difficult. Anaplasmosis is a serious illness that may result in death even in previously healthy people as it may lead to renal failure, respiratory, neurological problems and hemorrhaging. Antibiotics are used in the treatment of this disease.
Babesiosis: A preventable and treatable tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Babesia microti. Babesiosis severity ranges from asymptomatic to fatal. Symptoms if they occur, are typically flu-like: Chills, fever, loss of appetite, body aches, nausea, sweats and fatigue. Babesiosis may cause hemolytic anemia which leads to jaundice and dark urine; it may contribute to dangerously low blood pressure, blood clots and bleeding, liver, kidney, and lung failure and eventually, death. Babesia parasites can be found in the red blood cells of infected people and treatment is available.
Powassan Virus: Signs and symptoms of the little-known Powassan Virus include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, seizures, confusion, memory loss and other long-term neurological problems. There is no specific treatment and hospitalization is usually required to support respiration, receive intravenous fluids and reduce swelling of the brain. Approximately half of survivors have chronic neurological problems, and it is fatal in 10% of victims. Although only 25 cases have been identified in Canada (75 in the United States), the recent expansion of tick populations in North America makes this tick-borne illness cause for concern.
Although it typically takes ticks upwards of 24 hours to successfully transmit Lyme Disease, Black-Legged Ticks are capable of transmitting Powassan Virus in 15 minutes. If you find a tick on a person or pet:
A feeding tick has the appearance of having submerged its entire head into the host. Grasp the tick behind the head using tweezers and slowly and cautiously remove it from the host (fingers can be carefully used if an appropriate tool is not on hand, wash hands thoroughly before and after tick removal). Do not crush the tick; crushing may lead to the release of dangerous fluids. Ensure that the mouthparts of the tick are fully removed and thoroughly wash the infected area. Seek medical attention, especially if a bullseye-like rash appears at the bite location. Ticks removed from the body of a person or pet can be sent for testing for Borrelia burgdorferi by one of Toronto’s Public Health Offices, more information can be found here.
How Addison can help Prevent Deer Ticks Infestations in the Future
When entering a suspected tick populated, or heavily-wooded area:
Wear light clothing, long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks. Repellents: Deet-based skin repellent helps repel them, and Permethrin clothing treatment can kill ticks. Contact your veterinarian about available preventative treatments for ticks and other ectoparasites.
Ticks and other ectoparasites can enter the home on just about anything, on clothing, pets, people, and plants. In general, when returning from any densely vegetated, wooded or infested area where tick harbourages and activity are suspected, it is crucial to perform thorough checks of all incoming living and non-living objects. Ticks are drawn to moist and warm areas on their host bodies; be sure to check the scalp, nape, behind the ears, armpits, groin, navel and knees. Always check twice. Immediately wash and dry all clothing on high heat and be sure to shower as soon as possible. Bathe and groom your pets and regularly check for ticks and other parasites.
Certain preventative measures can be taken as part of a system of physical controls:
Keep your home clean, check under furniture and the areas that pets may frequent. Repair crevices and gaps around the structure, paying particular attention to possible entry points from outdoors. Keep your grass cut and maintain an organic free barrier of at least 1m around the exterior walls of the structure using gravel or woodchips. Dispose of all animal nesting material, and evict other pest populations in and around your property as ticks parasitize most rodent and avian pest species. Keep your lawn free of debris and leaf litter, keep children’s playsets clear of wooded areas.