A Closer Look at the Different Types of Ticks

Ticks come in many different varieties that not only look different, but also live in different regions and environments, and can transmit different types of diseases to both people and animals.

The purpose of this article is to provide some basic information about ticks, as well as key details about the various species that you are most likely to encounter in different regions of the United States. If you suspect that you or a loved one has been bitten by a tick of any kind, try to keep it as intact as possible so you can have it tested. Place it in a secure container so it can be evaluated by your healthcare provider, veterinarian, or local vector control for identification.

What Are Ticks?

Ticks belong to a group of animals called arthropods. Like spiders, they fall under the classification of arachnids—a specific type of arthropod with eight legs. Unlike spiders, however, ticks feed on blood from mammals—including people, pets and livestock—as well as birds, reptiles, and amphibians. They have been reported in rural and urban environments around the world, but are most often found in grassy or wooded areas and are typically most active from spring through fall.

In general, ticks can be divided into two main families: hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae).

HARD TICKS (IXODIDAE) Hard ticks all share the distinguishing trait of a hard outer shield or black plate, known as a scutum.

SOFT TICKS (ARGASIDAE) Soft ticks do not have a scutum but instead have more rounded bodies.

Both of these families of ticks have species that can transmit diseases to humans; however, the typical length of time required to do so differs just like their feeding habits. Certain hard ticks that carry Lyme disease, for example, typically must be attached for 36 to 48 hours to infect a host, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Certain soft ticks that transmit Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF), however, feed very quickly and can cause disease in humans.

What is the Typical Lifecycle of a Tick?

Ticks generally have four stages of life: egg, larvae, nymph and adult.

Eggs, which can number into the thousands, are laid by the female tick. These eggs hatch into larvae, which are also known as “seed ticks.” The larvae typically attach to smaller animals, such as mice and birds.

After several days of feeding, the larvae develop into nymphs, which can then attach to larger hosts and then ultimately turn into adult ticks. Most tick-borne diseases are transmitted by nymphs, which are so small that hosts often don’t see them.

Ticks advance through each of these stages by molting, a process during which they shed their outer skin.

What to Do After a Tick Bite
If you find a tick on you during a tick check, the most important thing to do is remove it immediately. The longer the tick remains attached to the skin, the higher the chances are that it will transmit a disease.
The CDC recommends using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick by the head and pull up with steady, even pressure. They also recommend avoiding folk remedies like burning matches or petroleum jelly, which can cause the tick to regurgitate more pathogens into the bloodstream. As mentioned, you should try to save the tick for testing if possible.
For more information on what to do after a tick bite, read the Tick Talk blog What to Do After You’ve Been Bitten by a Tick.

How to Treat a Tick Bite
Tick bites are an unfortunate occurrence since, once you’ve been bitten, any potential pathogens have already been transmitted.

However, in addition to removing all ticks, saving them for testing, and watching carefully for symptoms of tick-borne diseases, you can perform basic first aid on the bite. Wash the bite site with warm water and soap, rubbing alcohol, or an iodine scrub. You can also watch the site carefully for any rashes, but remember that rash is only a symptom of some tick-borne diseases, and it doesn’t always occur. Even with Lyme disease, the bull’s eye rash only shows up in some patients.
Tick Lifecycle & Size of Adult Ticks Against Nail
Image Source: Dr. Christopher Paddock

What Types of Ticks Transmit Diseases to Humans?

Of the nearly 900 species of ticks that exist in the world, only a select number bite and transmit disease to humans within the United States. The following descriptions provide key facts about each of these different types of ticks, including what each tick looks like at various stages of the lifecycle, some distinguishing characteristics, regions where they’re typically found, and what kinds of ticks carry Lyme disease and other illnesses that can infect both people and pets.

American Dog Tick, Also Known as Wood Tick
Distinguishing Characteristics of the American Dog Tick:
Sometimes called wood ticks, American dog ticks are a type of hard tick that is most often found in tall grass, as well as low-lying brush and twigs. At both adult and nymph stages, these ticks can feed on a variety of mammals, but adult females are most likely to bite humans. The adult females are most easily identified by the large, off-white scutum that starkly contrasts with the rest of their dark-brown bodies.
Diseases Transmitted by the American Dog Tick:
Both nymphs and adults can transmit Rickettsia rickettsia, which causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the bacteria that causes Tularemia.
Where the American Dog Tick is Found in the U.S.:
American dog ticks are primarily found east of the Rocky Mountains, although they can also be found in certain areas along the Pacific Coast.Map of American Dog Ticks in United StatesSummary
These days, ticks are more than just an annoyance. One bite can make you sick, even change your life. Taking protective measures is important in order to prevent a tick bite. Reducing tick abundance in your yard, wearing protective clothing, and scanning your body for ticks are all great actions for preventing tick bites. Fortunately, the best way to prevent bites remains the same: Know your ticks and how to avoid them. Here are the most common ticks in the United States.

Additional Resources





Good, general guide to ticks.  A few corrections:

Black legged ticks also transmit:

  • Tick paralysis (fully engorged female)
  • Mycoplasma spp.  (e.g., M. fermentans)

Lone Star ticks also transmit:

  • Anaplasmosis
  • Rickettsia amblyommatis (endosymbiotic spotted fever group)
  • Tick paralysis (fully engorged female)

Gulf Coast ticks also transmit:

  • Rickettsia
  • Tick paralysis (in dogs)

American Dog ticks also transmit

  • Anaplasma
  • Tick paralysis (fully engorged female)

Ground hog Ticks transmit (not mentioned, but found in the Eastern and Central U.S. – Ixodes cookei)

  • Powassan
  • Lyme disease

Ticks, associated tick-borne pathogens copy 2.pages

I think the most important thing to remember is that ticks move around on other animals and birds.  They are finding tropical ticks in Ontario and vice versa.  A patient should NEVER be told they aren’t infected with something solely because a doctor looked at a geographical map.  These maps are guides that are constantly changing.

I would also like to point out one other fact – Mycoplasma (even the bioweaponized one) is found and transmitted by the deer tick.  Mycoplasma isn’t even acknowledged by mainstream medicine, yet, is a formidable foe:  Similarly to Lyme, Mycoplasma has persister or dormant microorganisms due to biofilm, resistence and other mechanisms.  It is also devoid of a cell wall.  Dr. Nicolson states that 80% of Lyme patients are coinfected with Mycoplasma.  It’s hallmark symptom is fatigue.

Also important to note:

Genes part of the HIV-1 envelope were found in these Mycoplasmas, which means that a person may not get HIV but they may get some of the symptoms.

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