Diagnosing Deer Ticks

Identifying Deer Ticks
Unfortunately, deer ticks are very small and hard to spot. They are much smaller than common dog ticks. The nymphs are the size of a period at the end of a sentence, or about the size of a poppy seed. After feeding, they appear dark brown and about the size of a pinhead. The adult ticks are a bit bigger--about the size of a letter “o.” They have 8 legs and a distinctive “two-toned” appearance—the lower body is reddish-brown and the head is dark brown to black. Unlike other ticks, the bottom edge of the deer tick’s body is smooth, with no bumpy ridges. Deer ticks are most often found on adults around the shoes, socks and pant cuffs. On children, they can be anyplace, but favorite areas include the groin, back, armpits, and the head and hair.

Their Growth Stages
All ticks go through 4 life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. In order to grow, ticks must feed on blood from animals or birds. In late winter or early spring, adult females lay about 3,000 eggs in the soil, then die. The tiny 6-legged larvae hatch from June to September and seek out small animals or birds for their first blood meal. Then they drop off their host and overwinter in a resting state.
Early the following spring, the larvae molt into the 8-legged nymph stage. Again, the nymphs search out small animals (such as mice, shrews, chipmunks, raccoons, or opossums), or they seek birds,--or people--for their second blood meal. They wait in leaf litter or vegetation for a suitable host to pass close by, then hitch a ride and a meal. Once engorged—and, by now, infected--these nymphs molt into adults during the fall and winter and seek out new hosts, especially white-tailed deer (or any available hiker) for the third and final blood meal that will enable them to lay their eggs.

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