Wood Tick

Wood Ticks on Humans & Pets: Control in Homes or Businesses

General Information

The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), commonly known as the wood tick, primarily lives in forests and grassy areas inland of the American Eastern Seaboard. Along with the Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog ticks are one of the most common species of ticks found in the United States.

Wood ticks reside in large numbers throughout New England, especially in wooded backcountry.

Picture of Wood Tick
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Appearance

What Does a Wood Tick Look Like?
Wood ticks, like all ticks, are classified as arachnids, meaning as adults they possess eight legs. The overall appearance of wood ticks is dependent on sex. Sexual dimorphism, or the marked difference in appearance between the sexes of a certain species, often influences the size and color of ticks from males to females.

The female wood tick generally features a mostly dark-brown body with a small, light-brown band called a scutum, or shield, near the head. Males also feature a scutum, similar in color, spanning a majority of the arachnid's back (cephalothorax).

Female specimens often appear larger in size. The arachnid looks mostly the same in appearance throughout each stage of life, although wood tick larvae only possess six legs. Ticks go from three to four pairs of legs during the molt from larval to nymphal stage.

The bodies of ticks expand as they feed. A typical wood tick measures roughly one-quarter of an inch long for females and slightly less for males.

Engorged after feeding, the bodies of wood ticks may expand up to a half-inch in length. The scutum of the tick remains as the body fills with blood, which gives the shield a more forward appearance as opposed to just resting on the back of the arachnid.

Habits/Habitat

Where Do Wood Ticks Live?

Wood ticks spend a majority of any given day looking for a host animal to feed on. They typically wait in tall grasses along beaten paths or roads in an effort to attach to a host .

The wood tick is widely distributed and can be found from New England/Canada to Mexico. The species typically overwinters by burrowing into the soil in the late summer and reemerging in late spring, peaking seasonally in May and June. Wood ticks live roughly two years.

Diet

What Do Wood Ticks Eat?
Wood ticks feed on the blood of mammals. Adults generally feed on:

  • Dogs
  • Deer
  • Cattle
  • Horses
  • Humans
Wood tick larvae and nymphs use smaller mammals, like rats or mice, as feeding hosts. The arachnids need at least one host per life stage in order to survive.

Reproduction & Life Cycle

The full maturation of a wood tick takes several months to complete. The process begins with fully engorged females laying eggs (produced as a result of a blood meal).

Females often lay as many as 6,500 eggs at a time. Wood tick eggs take between a month and a month and a half to hatch.

The newborn larvae must find a host on which to feed to initiate the change into a nymph. Feeding often lasts two weeks at the larval stage. Digestion of the initial blood meal causes molting that sometimes lasts as long as seven days.

Nymphs must also find hosts to feed in order to progress into the adult stage. Feeding at the nymphal stage lasts around 10 days and concludes with digestion of the blood meal and molting from the nymphal stage to an adult, which sometimes lasts up to several months.

Wood ticks typically mate on host animals. Females die soon after laying eggs.

Problems Caused by Wood Ticks

Wood ticks present serious health hazards for human beings. While mammals common to wooded areas generally play host to wood ticks for feeding, they regularly attach to humans who spend time in parks, fields, or other grassy, wooded areas.

Serious health threats imposed by wood ticks to humans exist in the form of infectious diseases. Ticks are known to spread the causative bacteria of Lyme disease, which causes:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

It also affects the central nervous system, and often results in disabling effects if untreated. Wood ticks are also known to cause paralysis in animals, predominantly canines, due to a toxin released in the saliva while feeding. Removal of ticks takes special care, as too much direct contact with the fluids exchanged while the arachnid feeds may result in the accidental transfer of the toxin to the eyes or mouths of humans and may cause temporary or potentially permanent remote paralysis.

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