What kinds of ticks are found in Massachusetts?
First, let’s get all the myths out of the way. Ticks do not fly, leap or fall from trees! They don’t even have eyes and must wait for a host to pass by. Just imagine waiting for food to cross your path before you can eat.
Ticks have three life stages as they grow: the larval stage, nymph stage, and adult stage. It’s important to know that most ticks will feed in all stages. Therefore, you could contract a disease from any tick you come across. Please obtain medical advice if you have been bitten to see what they recommend! If possible, it is beneficial to capture the tick that has bitten you because it may aid in the treatment.
Here are 8 types of ticks that live in Massachusetts:
#1. Rabbit Tick
- Haemaphysalis leporispalustris
- Adults are tan to reddish-tan. Females are darker on the body and larger than males.
- Also known as the Grouse Tick.
The Rabbit Tick is found in forested habitats, including coniferous, deciduous, and mixed forests in Massachusetts. This tick is found from spring through summer. However, in the fall, their numbers significantly decline.
Rabbit Tick Range Map
The Rabbit Tick is considered a three-host tick, which means it feeds on a different host animal at each stage of its life. Because of the name, it should not be surprising that adults prefer to feed on rabbits. They are typically found on the back of or between the ears or on their neck. Immature Rabbit Ticks feed on ground-dwelling birds and other small mammals.
Rabbit Ticks can be infected with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a severe tick-borne illness with a mortality rate of over 20% if not treated early. They can also transmit Tularemia which typically infects the rabbit and rodent populations.
But here’s the good news:
Rabbit Ticks usually don’t feed on humans, and the disease transmission to humans is rare. Thank goodness!
#2. Winter Tick
- Dermacentor albipictus
- Adult females are reddish-brown with a creamy white shield on their backs behind their heads.
- Adult males are dark brown with a crosshatch pattern on their backs.
- Also known as the Moose Tick.
The Winter Tick is found in various habitats but has an abundance of populations where large hoofed animals are present in Massachusetts. This tick is a one-host tick, which means it feeds on the same individual during all three life stages. Therefore, it’s most frequently found in fall and winter.
Winter Tick Range Map
Ticks do not have eyes, so they can’t be picky about what meal presents itself. So, sometimes dogs, beavers, black bears, and coyotes are incidental hosts for Winter Ticks. Luckily, they rarely bite and don’t feed on humans.
This tick is not found to carry diseases, but heavy infestations can cause complications for their hosts. Large numbers of ticks result in severe anemia, skin irritation, hair loss, a distraction from feeding, and even death.
Interestingly, deer and other mammals can easily remove ticks when grooming, but moose cannot. In recent years, moose have been found completely covered with Winter Ticks. Surprisingly, one single moose can be covered in over 100,000 Winter Ticks, leading to the moose’s death. Check out this video below to learn more!
#3. Brown Dog Tick
- Rhipicephalus sanguineus
- Both sexes are reddish-brown and have an elongated body shape.
- Males only take small blood meals while females can take large meals, which makes them increase dramatically in size.
- Also known as the Kennel Tick.
The Brown Dog Tick can be found year-round in Massachusetts. They are mainly located where there are domestic dogs since that is their favorite host. So that means pretty much everywhere! 🙂
Brown Dog Tick Range Map
Unlike other ticks in Massachusetts, the Brown Dog Tick’s lifecycle can be completed indoors. Therefore, this tick species is often found in homes.
The Brown Dog Tick is considered the most widespread tick species in Massachusetts!
But luckily, it doesn’t typically bite humans. However, when they do, they have been known to transmit the bacterium that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a severe tick-borne illness with a mortality rate of over 20% if not treated early. Symptoms include high fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, and sometimes a rash. For transmission to occur, however, the tick must be attached for at least six hours.
Brown Dog Ticks can also transmit diseases to dogs, such as Canine Ehrlichiosis or Canine Babesiosis. So if you see odd symptoms after finding a tick on your dog, make sure to get it to a veterinarian.
#4. American Dog Tick
- Dermacentor variabilis
- Dark reddish-brown body. Flat and oval-shaped with brown and creamy white markings.
- Females have a cream-colored shield.
- Males are more speckled all over.
Like most ticks, the American Dog Tick prefers wooded habitats and grassy areas with low vegetation where larger mammals commonly pass. They are commonly found in urban areas around dogs and people.
American Dog Tick Range Map
The American Dog Tick prefers dogs as its host. Look for them on the dog’s head, ears, back, between the toes, or armpit.
This might surprise you, but the American Dog Tick can live up to two to three years without a host to feed upon. That is pretty amazing!
The American Dog Tick has been known to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to humans, a severe tick-borne illness with a mortality rate of over 20% if not treated early. They also transmit Tularemia to humans as well. Symptoms include an ulcer at the bite site, fever, chills, and tender lymph nodes.
This tick can transmit Canine Tick Paralysis to dogs which can cause paralytic symptoms such as instability and loss of reflexes. In addition, if the tick is not removed, it can cause respiratory failure, which could be fatal.
Such paralysis is not limited to dogs; it can happen to children as well. The good news is once the tick is removed, recovery is usually within one to two days. But, unfortunately, the fatality rate is about 10%, and most were children. Check out this video about the American Dog Tick.
#5. Groundhog Tick
- Ixodes cookei
- Adult males are dark reddish-brown on their backs.
- Adult females are lighter tan and have a dark brown shield by their heads.
- Also known as the Woodchuck Tick.
The Groundhog Tick is mainly found in or around the dens or nests of its hosts. They primarily feed on groundhogs and other small mammals, including raccoons, foxes, weasels, skunks, porcupines, dogs, and cats. They can also feed on several bird species, including robins.
Luckily, they rarely feed on humans!
Groundhog Tick Range Map
These ticks are active during the summer months, with numbers peaking in July. Their life cycle depends on environmental conditions and host availability. They can survive a year or more without a blood meal!
Groundhog Ticks are not known to transmit Lyme Disease. However, they do transmit Powassan Virus, which can lead to an infection in the brain and be deadly.
#6. Eastern Blacklegged Tick
- Ixodes scapularis
- Adult males are dark brown or black with a light grayish-tan band around their abdomens.
- Adult females are reddish-orange on the shield with black legs, which is how they got their name.
- Also known as the Deer Tick, Black-legged Tick, or Bear Tick.
The Eastern Blacklegged Tick is the primary Lyme Disease carrier in Massachusetts. They are found in wooded brushy areas home to mammals such as mice, deer, and others. Look for these ticks in low vegetation or shrubs.
Eastern Blacklegged Tick Range Map
In each stage of life, the tick is mobile and able to feed on humans or animals.
- Larvae prefer birds and mice.
- Nymphs will attach to any mammal that walks, including humans.
- Adult ticks prefer the White-tailed Deer but will feed on coyotes, humans, or other mammals.
Eastern Blacklegged Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Powassan Virus.
They are extremely slow feeders and usually feed for three to five days at a time. If a tick is infected with a disease, on average, it takes 24-48 hours before it transmits the disease to the host. But it has been shown to only be 16 hours in some cases. So the bottom line is that the longer the tick is attached and feeds, the greater the likelihood of transmitting a disease.
The nymphal stage tick is the most dangerous to humans because it is around the size of a poppy seed and rarely detected until after it has attached and engorged itself. Unfortunately, if the tick is infected, it’s most likely already transmitted the disease before it’s discovered.
#7. Lone Star Tick
- Amblyomma americanum
- Round bodied tick. Colors can range from reddish-brown to tan.
- Adult females have a single white spot on their backs.
- Adult males have white markings on their legs and around their abdomens.
- Also known as Cricker Tick, Turkey Tick, or Northeastern Water Tick.
The Lone Star Tick prefers dry forested areas with shrub undergrowth along rivers or streams near animal resting sites.
Lone Star Tick
This tick is a three-host tick that has a different host for every stage in their life. They will feed on a wide variety of hosts during each stage, but they feed on humans in every stage. The most common host for the adult Lone Star Tick is the White-tailed Deer.
The Lone Star Tick can transmit many diseases such a Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, Heartland Virus, Bourbon Virus, and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI). Fortunately, Lyme disease is not common in this species.
Believe it or not, Lone Star Ticks can transmit Alpha-gal, which is a meat allergy. The tick transmits the allergy while feeding on the person, which causes the person to have a delayed response after eating meat or meat products, which causes anaphylaxis. This is a life-threatening allergic reaction with constriction of airways and a drop in blood pressure. Talk about leaving a long-lasting impression!
#8. Asian Longhorned Tick
- Haemaphysalis longicornis
- Adult males’ bodies are reddish-brown and yellowish and have a yellowish edge around their bodies.
- Adult females’ bodies are reddish-brown with dark brown markings.
- Also known as Longhorned Tick, Bush Tick, Asian Tick, and Cattle Tick.
The Asian Longhorned Tick is native to Asia but made its way to North America in 2017, first discovered on a sheep farm. Efforts to eradicate them failed, and now they are an established invasive species.
Asian Longhorned Tick Range Map
This tick can reproduce sexually or by an asexual process called parthenogenesis (a natural form of reproduction where an embryo forms without fertilization by sperm.) So it is not surprising that they couldn’t eradicate them.
The Asian Longhorned Tick is a blood-sucking external parasite of many different hosts. They are found in mammals, birds, and even humans. However, they are often seen on farm animals such as cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, and chickens.
This tick can transmit Theileriosis to cattle which causes significant blood loss and sometimes death in calves. It also decreases milk production in cows and wool quantity and quality in sheep.
This species can also transmit human diseases such as Lyme Spirochetes, Rickettsiae, Russian Spring-summer Encephalitis, Powassan Virus, Tick-borne Encephalitis Virus, Japanese Spotted Fever, and severe fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome.
Do you need additional help identifying ticks?
Try this field guide!
Which of these ticks have you seen in Massachusetts?
Leave a comment below!
Many of the tick pictures above are from Ticksafety.com. It’s an excellent resource for learning more about ticks and how to stay safe!