What kinds of ticks are found in California?
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 9 types of ticks that live in California:
#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 California. 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 California. 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 California. 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 California, 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 California!
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. Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
- Dermacentor andersoni
- Bright reddish teardrop-shaped body.
- Adult females have a white shield.
- Adult males have gray and white spots on their bodies.
You will typically find the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick in California in higher elevation habitats, including meadows, shrubs, and lightly wooded areas. They sit in low-growing vegetation around trails and grasslands, waiting for larger animals to pass by to feed on them.
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick Range Map
This tick’s larvae and nymphs feed on small rodents, while adult ticks feed primarily on large mammals, including humans.
The adult Rocky Mountain Wood Tick can go up to two years without feeding on a host. That’s a long time to wait for a meal!
The common diseases transmitted by this tick are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, Anaplasmosis, Tularemia, and Tick Paralysis. Luckily, male ticks are not known to transmit infections.
#7. Soft ticks
- Unlike hard ticks, soft ticks have more rounded bodies and lack an external jaw.
- Size and color vary greatly. Mouthparts are not visible and they feed at night.
- Soft ticks encompass the entire family of Argasidae.
There are 193 species of soft ticks – far too many to list separately! Their mouth is located on the underside of their abdomen, hidden from view.
Soft ticks don’t wait for a host to walk by like hard ticks; instead, they live in rodent burrows and feed on the host while they sleep. It sounds more like a blood-sucking vampire! 🙂
Soft Tick Range Map
Unfortunately, humans can come in contact with soft ticks if they sleep in a rodent-infested cabin. Yikes!
Another hair-raising fact is that these species’ bites are painless, and the ticks can feed in less than one hour. As a result, most people are unaware that they’ve even been bitten.
Soft ticks can transmit Tick-borne Relapsing Fever to humans or pets. The symptoms may include a sudden fever, chills, headaches, muscle or joint aches, and nausea. A rash may also occur. These symptoms usually continue for two to nine days, then disappear. However, this cycle may continue for several weeks if the person is not treated.
#8. Western Blacklegged Tick
- Ixodes pacificus
- Adult males are oval-shaped and brownish-black.
- Adult females are brown and black on their backs and orangeish-brown on their abdomens. Their mouthparts also stick out more than males.
- Also known as the Western Deer Tick.
The Western Blacklegged Tick is mainly found in deciduous forests and shrubbery on the edges of forests. You will rarely see them in open fields and grassy areas.
Western Blacklegged Tick Range Map
This tick is typically found on wild rodents, other mammals, and humans. But luckily, male Western Blacklegged Ticks are not known to transmit any infections. It’s the girls you have to watch out for!
The diseases transmitted by females are Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Powassan Virus.
Check out this video on how the Western Blacklegged Tick finds its host.
#9. Pacific Coast Tick
- Dermacentor occidentalis
- Adult males are dark speckled brown with reddish-brown.
- Adult females are dark reddish-brown and black with a creamy white and black shields.
The Pacific Coast Tick is found in open fields and shrubs in western California.
Pacific Coast Range Map
This tick prefers to attach itself to livestock or larger animals, such as deer and dogs. They usually don’t feed on humans.
Pacific Coast Ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, 364D Rickettsiosis, Tularemia, Anaplasmosis, and Tick Paralysis.
Do you need additional help identifying ticks?
Try this field guide!
Which of these ticks have you seen in California?
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!