Household Pests: Deer Tick

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on January 23, 2023
5 min read

Ticks are a common pest found in many places, especially throughout the United States. They are responsible for diseases such as Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Many pet owners notice these small insects clinging to their dogs or cats and have to remove and test for Lyme.

Ticks are sometimes confused for other insects, including: 

  • Spider beetles
  • Weevils 
  • Carpet beetles
  • Bed bug
  • Immature stink bugs
  • Clover mites

There are many different species of ticks, including deer ticks. Since deer ticks tend to be a problem for many homes, it’s important to understand what they are, how to identify them, the dangers behind deer ticks, and how to prevent deer ticks from infesting your yard and home.

So, what are deer ticks, exactly?

Deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are also known as black-legged ticks. They are external parasitic insects known as ectoparasites. These tiny parasitic insects can be found all across the United States, including Alaska. They are most commonly spotted in areas between Texas and the East Coast, such as the Great Lakes region. They favor moist and shady areas. 

What Do Deer Ticks Look Like?

Many people wonder what deer ticks look like. Female and male deer ticks have similar physical characteristics. Female ticks grow to be around 1/8”, while males are smaller and reach only 1/16”. Female and male ticks both have flat, oval-shaped bodies. Female ticks have an orange-brown body, while their legs, mouthparts, and scutum are darker. Their abdomens are light-colored when they haven’t fed lately but become darker after feeding. Males are and remain reddish brown.

They have eight legs and no antennae.

What Do Deer Ticks Eat?

What do deer ticks eat? Ticks consume blood from various mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. They must feed on blood during each stage of their life to survive. Many ticks prefer to feed on different host animals during each phase of their life. For example, larvae may prefer to feed on raccoons and deer, while adults may prefer to feed on humans and household pets.

Ticks can detect an animal’s breath and body odor, body heat, moisture, and other vibrations, allowing them to locate their next meal easily. Some ticks can even identify shadows. Ticks often hide in well-traveled paths to wait for their prey.

Deer Tick Life Cycle

The average lifespan of a deer tick is around two years. Adult ticks lay their eggs in spring. The eggs hatch during the later months of spring and sometimes into the first few weeks of summer. Female larvae feed on small animals during the summer and then go dormant in the winter. When spring arrives again, the larvae become nymphs before turning into adults somewhere between spring and fall.

If you’re wondering do deer ticks bite and are deer ticks dangerous, the answers are yes. 

Many life-threatening diseases are found in ticks, including: 

  • Anaplasmosis: Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne illness that affects white blood cells. Symptoms include headache, fever, chills, and body aches.
  • Babesiosis: Babesiosis is a parasitic disease that impacts red blood cells. Symptoms include hemolytic anemia.
  • Bartonellosis: Bartonellosis is a bacterial infection. It can be asymptomatic. When symptoms appear, they often include scratch-like marks that appear swollen and red, visibly swollen lymph nodes, complications of the eyes, heart, and spleen, seizures, and possible coma.
  • Deer tick virus: Deer tick virus typically transmits to a host in 15 minutes, and many patients show no symptoms. When symptoms do appear, it’s usually 1-4 weeks after exposure and includes fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, and seizures. In worse cases, death may result.
  • Lyme disease: Lyme disease is one of the more commonly recognized tick-borne illnesses. The first symptom noted is usually a rash at the site of injury. Not everyone will develop symptoms, but symptoms usually occur within 3-30 days after a tick has bitten. A rash appears in up to 80% of individuals with Lyme disease. The rash may also spread to other areas as the disease progresses and spreads. Other symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, chills, fever, and body aches. In some cases, changes in vision and numbness can occur.  
  • Mycoplasmosis: Mycoplasmosis invades the body’s cells and causes symptoms such as severe fatigue, joint pain and swelling, muscle pain, and nausea. It can also cause neuropsychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, memory loss, and insomnia. The severity of mycoplasmosis varies, with immunocompromised individuals being more susceptible to severe infections.
  • Relapsing fever-like: relapsing fever-like, or borrelia miyamotoi, is a bacteria that causes fever, chills, and headaches.

Ticks spread these diseases when they feed on their host.

Deer tick bite symptoms vary depending on whether you’ve contracted a tick-borne illness. For the most part, tick bites leave behind an irritated red mark that subsides in a few days. 

Deer Tick Bite Treatment

If a tick has bitten you, it’s important that you understand how to properly remove the tick from your skin and how to send it in for testing. Testing the tick is essential to determine what disease if any,- the tick has that can affect you so that a proper deer tick bite treatment can be made.

If you notice a tick on your skin that has sunk its teeth into you, you’ll need to use tweezers or a tick removal tool to safely remove the tick from your body. To do this, grasp the tick as close to its head as possible. Pull the tick straight up with a steady hand. Don’t twist or squeeze the tick. Doing so can increase your likelihood of getting a tick-borne illness. 

Once the tick has been removed, place the rick in a plastic bag. You’ll need to save the tick to identify it and send it in for testing. Clean the bite with antiseptics. You may notice some redness and irritation around the bite, but this is normal. However, any other symptoms such as a rash, pain, or tenderness need to be checked by your doctor immediately.

To prevent deer ticks from infesting your land, you should keep your grass mowed regularly. Deer ticks thrive in vegetation, so keeping your grass cut low can help keep them away. Ensure that your grass receives regular cutting around fences, sheds, trees, shrubs, playground toys, and other locations. Also, keep weeds, woodpiles, and debris to a minimum. Another method in deer tick prevention is to prevent tick-carrying wildlife, such as opossums and raccoons, from entering your yard by tightly securing garbage can lids.

How To Get Rid of Deer Ticks

If you notice a tick population already in your yard, or in your home, then you’ll want to call a pest control professional to have these pests removed from your landscape. Additionally, you can use repellants to repel ticks from you as you engage in outdoor activities. Check your children and pets regularly for ticks to ensure that they aren’t brought indoors.