Deer Tick Identification and Prevention Tips

Female and Nymph Ticks

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Despite the long, cold winter that plagues much of the U.S., ticks often appear in abundance in some areas. One of the reasons the ticks survive is because the lingering snow helps to insulate the ground, as well as areas such as leaf litter where ticks overwintered.

According to Paul Curtis, coordinator of Cornell University’s Wildlife Damage Management Program and associate professor of Natural Resources, “Black-legged ticks—also known as deer ticks—do not like dry, open areas and are not common in tall grass. Instead, they are found primarily in shaded sites such as woods or woodland edges, or in shaded home landscapes.”

Characteristics and Control

Deer ticks transmit Lyme disease, listed by CDC as the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the United States. Additionally, because the tick’s primary host is the white-tailed deer, population levels of the deer tick are associated with population levels of this deer. In some areas, such as that of New York State, deer populations are currently high, Curtis notes. This has, thus, contributed to a rise in reported Lyme disease cases in both people and pets.

 “It is very important to remove ticks as soon as possible because they must be attached for approximately 24 to 36 hours to transfer pathogens to humans or pets while feeding,” Curtis said, adding, “Pet owners should consult their veterinarian, as Lyme disease can cause severe problems for dogs.” Additionally, people who are outdoors in tick-infested areas should check themselves closely for ticks at the end of each day. Consult your physician if you are bitten and concerned about potential disease transmission, he said.

Where practical deer fencing can be set up in high-risk areas, such as parks and playgrounds frequented by children and pets, Curtis recommends placing a tick control device. “The 4-Poster device, a type of deer bait station that controls ticks as they feed, dramatically reduce tick populations over a two to three year period,” Curtis said. However, the device is not registered in all areas—for example, in New York, it is currently only registered for use on Long Island—so anyone wishing to try out the device needs to check local regulations prior to purchase or use.

Bite Prevention Tips

Curtis provides the following tips to keep from being bitten by a tick:

  • Wear light-colored clothing with long pants and sleeves.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks, and your shirt into your pants.
  • Use spray repellents as directed on the label.
  • Walk along the center of trails and avoid contact with shrubs or brush.
  • Conduct frequent clothing checks, and carefully inspect your body for ticks.
  • Once home, dry clothing on the highest temperature setting for 10 minutes to kill any ticks.
  • Keep pets from tick-infested areas and check them before entering the house.
  • Mow lawns and remove lawn debris and leaf litter.
  • Discourage rodents by reducing cover (e.g., wood piles) and food sources (e.g., birdseed, compost).
  • Move lawn furniture and children’s toys away from the yard edges and wooded areas.