How To Identify a Tick (2022 Edition)

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Ticks can be some of the most irritating pests you might encounter in your yard or home. However, they can also carry dangerous bloodborne diseases, so you must avoid them whenever possible. One of the best ways to avoid getting tick bites is to know what they look like and where they like to hide. 

By understanding the habits and appearance of ticks, you can do your best to keep away from them. In this article, you’ll learn: 

  • How to Identify Ticks 
  • Tick Behavior and Habits 
  • What Attracts Ticks
  • How You Can Get Rid of Ticks

Taking the proper steps to protect yourself, your family, and your pets from tick bites will help you stay healthy and safe, even when it is a season when ticks are common.

Reviewed By:
Ed Spicer

Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!

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Table Of Contents

    How to Identify Ticks 

    Ticks are very closely related to mites and spiders, are in the arachnid family, and go through the same life stages. This means that, like spiders, adult ticks have eight legs no matter what type they are. In the United States, there are three tick species that can be a health hazard to humans: the blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, the American brown dog tick, and the lone star tick. 

    Ticks can vary in size depending on the type of tick and how recently they have eaten. Because ticks are parasites, they feed on blood and can become engorged after a blood meal. Most ticks, when they are first born, are incredibly small. Blacklegged and lone star ticks are the sizes of a grain of sand at the beginning of their life cycle as larvae, while American dog ticks are slightly larger and are about the size of a sesame seed. However, once they have fully grown through the nymph stage and had a blood meal, they can be very large. 

    Ticks are usually oval-shaped and have a flat body unless they are engorged. They come in many different colors and can be grayish, reddish-brown, or black. They have very distinct mouthparts and can have white markings on the tops of their bodies. They may also have a hard, shield-like covering on their back, called a scutum. This is one of the most distinct characteristics of common ticks and is the best way to differentiate them from small spiders. 

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    Tick Behavior and Habits 

    Ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas that are higher in elevation. This is one of the reasons they are so common in the Rocky Mountain region and some of the mountainous regions in the Upper Midwest. They also thrive in warm and humid areas, such as some areas along the Gulf Coast. In fact, there are very few places in North America where ticks don’t thrive. 

    Ticks will latch onto animals and human beings, which is how they get their blood meals and pass on bloodborne pathogens. Tick bites can result in several infections such as Lyme disease, spotted fever, tick fever, tularemia, and ehrlichiosis. These tickborne diseases are caused by bacteria commonly carried by the ticks and then passed on through the blood of their hosts. Because of this, you should carefully remove any ticks you see on your skin with tweezers as soon as you notice them. The faster you start the tick removal process, the less likely you will get infected by one of these diseases. 

    Ticks will be very common in more remote wooded areas, but they can also be found in suburban areas around yards or parks. Wood piles are especially good habitats for ticks, as well as rodents and other pests. If you will be moving wood from a pile, it is best to wear gloves and check the wood for ticks before you bring it into the house. Yards with a lot of leaf litter or general vegetation on the ground can also be perfect tick habitats. 

    If you have animals, especially dogs, it is very important to check them for ticks any time they come in from the outdoors. Ticks will also burrow into dog beds and kennels, where they have a better chance of latching onto a pet. Regularly washing your dog’s belongings can help prevent the proliferation of ticks inside your home. 

    There are no specific seasons that ticks adhere to, although many species prefer warmer temperatures, which means that they will be more prevalent in the spring and summer. However, according to the CDC, deer ticks are most active between the fall and spring in the Northeast. They will be most common in backyards or tall grass after the first frost of the year. This year-round prevalence is why it is so important that you know how to identify and avoid ticks no matter where you live. 

    If you notice a tick on your skin or your pet’s skin, it is best to remove it as soon as possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that you should use tweezers to grab onto the tick as close to its head as possible. Then, you can slowly pull the tick backward and upwards from the skin. This is the best way to get it off your skin without pushing more of the bacteria into your bloodstream. The sooner you do this, the less likely you will contract any infectious diseases. 

    Tick bites can result in several infections such as Lyme disease, spotted fever, tick fever, tularemia, and ehrlichiosis. These tickborne diseases are caused by bacteria commonly carried by the ticks and then passed on through the blood of their hosts.

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    What Are Ticks Attracted To?

    Ticks will be attracted to areas around your home with tall grass or places to hide. This is why wood piles are such a common habitat for them. Ticks will hide in places that make it easy for them to latch onto people and animals as they walk by. Because of this, it is a good idea to keep your grass short in your backyard and prevent your pets from walking through any thick vegetation if you have a lot of ticks in your area. 

    Ticks are generally attracted to CO2, which means they will be drawn to your breath as you exhale. They can also sense your body heat and the body heat that your pets give off. On top of this, they can also sense the lactic acid that you give off as you sweat. Since you and your pets can’t stop yourselves from giving off heat or sweating, covering yourself up is your best option. If you are in an area where ticks are prevalent, it is a good idea to keep your body covered up as much as possible. This will not only prevent ticks from sensing your body heat, but it will also provide a barrier between your skin and them. 

    How Do You Get Rid of Ticks?

    Ticks are generally very difficult to completely remove from your yard and the surrounding areas. This is partially because they are so small when they are larvae, and even full-grown adults can be hard to find before having a blood meal. When it comes to getting rid of ticks, your best bet is to focus on prevention. Making sure you aren’t bit by a tick in the first place will help ensure you don’t get infected with any of the more common bloodborne infections. 

    The best way to prevent ticks on your pets is to keep them on tick-repelling medication. Many medications will combine tick protection with protection from fleas, heartworms, and other common parasites that pets can get. You should also check for ticks every time they come into the house from being outside, especially if you have tall grass or heavy vegetation in your yard. Run your fingers through their fur and feel for any small bumps on their skin to do this effectively. Make sure you check in the hard-to-reach places, like between their toes and on their stomach. Ticks also like to latch on around the ears where they connect to the head. Thoroughly checking your pets is a great way to prevent ticks in your home and protect them from diseases. 

    Final Thoughts

    If you have been noticing a lot of ticks on or around your property, it is a good idea to consult a pest control professional. They will help you prepare your home and get rid of all the places where ticks are most likely to hide and nest. They will also have recommendations for the kinds of medication you should be giving your pets to ensure they are protected against tick bites. 

    Because ticks are considered a serious public health concern, you should always be vigilant about them. Taking the time to understand tick identification can protect you and your pets and keep your home safe. 

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