Morgantown, W.Va. – There’s a lot of talk about ticks in the news and on social media this year after a milder than usual winter and increasing public attention to Lyme disease and Powassan virus. However, these parasitic pests are common in West Virginia and an integrated control approach can help homeowners protect themselves and their family.
According to Daniel Frank, West Virginia University Extension Service entomology specialist, West Virginia has three species of ticks that are frequently encountered. These include the American dog tick, the blacklegged or deer tick, and the lone star tick.
Different species can be more common depending on the habitat. The American dog tick is the most commonly encountered and can be found predominantly in grassy fields and other open areas around shrubby or woody habitats. Deer ticks prefer mixed forests and woodland edges, and lone star ticks primarily stick to dense woodland and animal nesting sites.
Just as they prefer different habitats, ticks can carry different pathogens. For instance, the American dog tick and lone star tick can be a carrier for the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. Deer ticks are the species that may carry the pathogen that causes Lyme disease and can also transmit Powassan virus, among others.
Ticks need to feed on blood to develop on to the next stage of their lifecycle, which generally takes one to three years to complete. That’s how they come to feed on animals, including humans. Contrary to popular belief, Frank noted that ticks don’t drop from trees onto their hosts. Instead, they quest.
“Questing is when ticks wait on vegetation with their front legs stretched out waiting for a host to brush by so they can latch onto them,” said Frank. “And they’re receptive to things such as body heat, carbon dioxide from exhaling, movement and other cues. Once they sense that a host may be near, they’re more likely to quest to find a meal.”