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About Ticks

Ticks are a parasitic group of arthropods more closely related to spiders, mites and scorpions than to insects. There are two major groups of ticks: hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae). Hard ticks get their name from a hard plate of exoskeleton (scutum) present dorsally behind the head. In males, the scutum completely covers the back, while in females the scutum only partly covers the back.The hard ticks are more common and more important as a pest to humans and animals. They feed on blood from their animal hosts, and several species are notorious for also transmitting disease-causing pathogens.

Tick Descriptions

Lone star tick, blacklegged tick and American dog tick. (Photo credit: Daniel Frank)Common tick species found in West Virginia include the American dog tick ( Dermacentor variabilis), blacklegged or deer tick ( Ixodes scapularis) and lone star tick ( Amblyomma americanum).

The American dog tick is the most commonly encountered tick in West Virginia. Although it can be found feeding on dogs, it will readily feed on numerous other animal hosts. They are brown to reddish-brown with cream or grayish colored markings on the scutum.

The blacklegged, or deer, tick is commonly encountered in mixed forests and along woodland edges. The larval and nymphal stages can be found feeding on small rodents (the preferred host is the white-footed mouse), while deer are the primary hosts during the adult stage. These ticks are chocolate brown in color, with adult females having an orange to red back surrounding the scutum.

The lone star tick is commonly encountered in dense woodlands and around animal nesting areas. They are reddish-brown to tan in color, with adult females having a single white spot on the scutum.

Tick Life Cycle and Habits

The life cycle of ticks consists of four stages; the egg, six-legged larva (often called seed ticks), eight-legged nymph and adult (also with eight legs). Ticks must feed at each stage to complete their one- to three-year life cycle.

Ticks do not jump or drop from trees onto their hosts. They wait in a position known as questing, which is resting upon vegetation with their front legs outstretched waiting to climb upon a host.

In order for a tick to take a blood meal without being detected, it injects small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties at the site of attachment. If the tick is infected with a pathogen, it is transmitted to the host through the saliva.

Tick Management

Personal Protection from Ticks

The most effective method for protecting oneself is to regularly check for ticks. The probability of a tick transmitting a disease-causing pathogen increases the longer an infected tick is attached.

When entering a habitat with a high risk of tick exposure, hike along trails, staying in the center to avoid brushing against weeds and tall grass. Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to spot. Using a DEET-based repellent on skin and permethrin-treated clothing can also provide good protection.

If an attached tick is found, remove it using thin-tipped tweezers or forceps. Grasp the tick as close to skin as possible and pull the tick upward with steady even pressure to remove the tick with its mouthparts intact to reduce the risk of infection.

Landscape Management Control for Ticks

Desiccation (drying out) is a major cause of natural tick mortality. Taking steps to make vegetation and leaf litter dry out faster can make the area less favorable for ticks.

There is a positive correlation between the abundance and distribution of the blacklegged tick and the size of whitetailed deer populations. Deer management options, such as fencing, repellents, guard animals and deer-resistant landscape plantings, can also be used to help reduce tick populations.

Chemical Control of Ticks

Insecticides, or acaracides when used for ticks, can help reduce tick populations around the home, especially when combined with landscape management practices that decrease tick habitat. Fast-acting, residual formulations of synthetic pyrethroids (e.g., bifenthrin, permethrin) can be applied along yard perimeters, and other areas where ticks may inhabit. Spray treatments are most effective when applied using a high-pressure sprayer in the spring when nymphs become active. An additional application in the fall can be used to target adult ticks.

Another option is to target acaracides on small mammals that may be living in the area. In many instances, mice are the reservoir hosts responsible for producing disease-carrying ticks.