Name Western Black-Legged Tick
Latin Name Ixodes pacificus
Nicknames/common names Bear Tick
How do you get rid of Western Black-Legged Ticks?
Western Black-Legged 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.
How to identify Western Black-Legged Ticks
Western Black-Legged 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. 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 lizards, 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, Western 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. Western Black-Legged 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 Western Black-Legged Ticks Infestation
Western Black-Legged 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?
This tick can mainly be found on the Pacific coast and does not occur in Ontario. In response to carbon dioxide or heat and vibration stimuli, dangerously inconspicuous Bear Ticks ‘quest’ by climbing on logs and the lower portions of tree trunks along trails waiting for passing hosts. Active in temperatures above 4 degrees Celsius, once mounted onto its host, a Western Black-Legged 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 Western Black-Legged Ticks eat?
Black-Legged Ticks will feed on host bodies ranging from mice and lizards to larger hosts like deer, humans and dogs. Black-Legged Ticks are capable of transmitting disease as early as the nymphal stage.
How Serious are Western Black-Legged Ticks?
The Western Black-Legged Tick is the second most likely tick in Canada to transmit Lyme Disease to people and pets. The Western Black-Legged Tick is also a known vector of Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis.
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.
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.
Ehrlichiosis: Ehrlichiosis disproportionately affects people over the age of 50 with weakened immune systems. The onset of symptoms usually occurs 1-2 weeks after being bitten by an infected tick and include fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches, malaise, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion and rash (rash is more common in children than adults). If treated incorrectly the disease can become fatal, causing difficulty breathing and bleeding disorders, even in previously healthy people. Most patients that are diagnosed correctly and treated early recover fully on outpatient medications. Lone Star Ticks can also transmit Ehrlichiosis to dogs.
Thankfully, ticks must typically feed on the host body for upwards of 24 hours to successfully transmit a disease, If you find a tick on a person or pet:
Grasp the tick behind the head using tweezers and slowly 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. Save the tick body for testing and diagnosis.
How Addison can help Prevent Western Black-Legged Tick Infestations in the Future
When entering a suspected tick populated, or leaf-littered 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.