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Ticks of Delaware



There are five species of tick commonly found in Delaware. Identifying which tick has bitten you can help you take steps to protect yourself. There are also a handful of arthropods that are sometimes mistaken for ticks.

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Dr. Ashley Kennedy
Tick Biologist
302-601-6408

Tick Life-Cycle

Most ticks of medical importance are called “3-host ticks” because they need to find and feed on three hosts to complete their life cycle: once as a larva, once as a nymph, and once as an adult.

In general, larval and nymphal ticks feed on small hosts such as rodents, rabbits, and songbirds. Adult ticks feed on larger hosts such as deer, livestock, and dogs.

Three-host tick life-cycle

Illustrator: Scott Charlesworth, Purdue University

 

Nymphs are most common during the late spring and early summer and larvae during the late summer. For most species, adult ticks are most common in the spring and summer, but blacklegged tick adults are most active in the late fall and winter.

Common Tick Species in Delaware

The five most common tick species found in Delaware are the Lone Star Tick, the Deer/Blacklegged Tick, the American Dog Tick, the Gulf Coast Tick and the Asian Longhorned Tick. Different ticks can carry or cause different health issues for humans.

Tick species can be identified by looking closely at their mouthparts and scutum (the shield that forms their back).

Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)

Lone Star Tick

Lone star ticks are the most common tick species in Delaware, especially in Kent and Sussex Counties.

They are found in spring, summer, and early fall in a variety of habitats.

They are vectors of the pathogens that cause ehrlichiosis and are also associated with a condition called alpha-gal syndrome (mammalian meat allergy).

They can be recognized by this combination of features:

  • Long mouthparts
  • Brown-red body with white flecks around the margin of the scutum (males) or a white dot in the center of the back (females)
  • Round body shape, “crab-like” appearance

Deer/Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes scapularis)

Deer/Blacklegged Tick

Deer/Blacklegged Tick

Blacklegged ticks (formerly known as “deer ticks”) are common in forested areas and woody edge habitats statewide.

Adults are often encountered in fall, winter, and early spring. Nymphs are encountered in late spring and early summer, and larvae in late summer.

They are vectors of the pathogens that cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis.

They can be recognized by this combination of features:

  • Long mouthparts
  • Dark brown scutum
  • Teardrop body shape; small size

American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

American Dog Tick

American dog ticks are common in meadows and other areas with tall grasses. Only adult dog ticks bite humans; larvae and nymphs feed only on wildlife hosts.

They are usually encountered in late spring and summer.

They can vector the bacteria that cause spotted fever.

American dog ticks can be identified by this combination of features:

  • Short mouthparts
  • Pale, marbled scutum in contrast to a dark brown body
  • Large body size

Gulf Coast Tick (Amblyomma maculatum)

Gulf Coast Tick

Gulf Coast ticks are found in meadows and wetland areas in late spring and summer.

They can transmit bacteria that cause spotted fever.

They can be recognized by this combination of features:

  • Long mouthparts
  • Pale, marbled scutum in contrast to a red-brown body
  • Large body size

Asian Longhorned Tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis)

Asian longhorned ticks are found in a variety of habitats in New Castle and Kent Counties during the spring and summer. They infrequently bite humans and are more likely to be seen on pets or livestock.

Asian Longhorned Tick

Asian Longhorned Tick

To date, they are not associated with any medical conditions in the United States.

They can be recognized by this combination of features:

  • Short mouthparts
  • Solid colored (no contrast between the scutum and the rest of the body)
  • Projections on the mouthparts sticking out to the sides

Other Delaware Tick Species

In addition to the 5 commonly seen species listed above, Delaware is home to the following species which rarely bite humans:

  • Winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus)
  • Rabbit tick (Haemaphysalis leporispalustris)
  • Groundhog tick (Ixodes cookei)
  • Squirrel tick (Ixodes marxi)
  • Raccoon tick (Ixodes texanus)
  • Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
  • Ixodes brunneus
  • Ixodes dentatus

Tick Lookalikes

These arthropods are sometimes mistaken for ticks, but you can use the following features to tell them apart. Keep in mind that ticks are wingless, have eight legs, and do not have antennae. (Thanks to photographer Matt Bertone for the photos in this section)

Stink Bugs

Stink BugStink bugs are insects, so they have six legs, wings, and antennae.

Spiders

SpiderLike ticks, spiders are arachnids and have eight legs. Spiders are usually larger and are often associated with webs (ticks are not found in webs).

Lice

A LouseBoth ticks and lice are flat and wingless, but lice have a longer body shape and only six legs. And lice have and antennae, which ticks lack.

Fleas

A FleaBoth ticks and fleas are flat and wingless, but fleas are powerful jumpers. Ticks cannot jump. Fleas are insects and have only six legs.

Bed Bugs

A Bed BugBoth ticks and bed bugs are flat and wingless but bed bugs are insects, so they have six legs and antennae. Ticks are encountered outdoors whereas bed bugs are found indoors, typically on or behind furniture.

Weevils and Other Beetles

A BeetleSome small beetles can be mistaken for ticks. Beetles are insects, so they have six legs and antennae. They also have wings. Ticks are wingless.

Mites

A MiteTicks and mites are both arachnids and share many features such as eight legs and small body size.

In fact, technically speaking, ticks are mites, but there are thousands of species of harmless mites that are not ticks.

Most of these other mites are smaller than ticks (usually too small to see without a microscope). The larger ones that are visible to the naked eye, such as this velvet mite, can be distinguished from ticks because they are soft. Ticks are protected by a hard exoskeleton.

Mites belonging to the family Trombiculidae are commonly called “chiggers.” Chiggers in their larval stage can bite humans, causing itching and skin irritation. Nymphal and adult chiggers do not bite humans, feeding instead on plant matter.




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