In recent years, the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) (Figure 1) has become increasingly more common in Kentucky and now occurs throughout the state (Figure 2). Adults are active from November through March, whenever the temperature is above freezing. Hungry blacklegged ticks wait on vegetation for passing large hosts, especially deer. However, they also will feed on humans, dogs, and cats. Females take a blood meal from the host, mate, and drop to the ground, laying eggs in late spring. The life cycle (egg, larva, nymph, and adult) takes 2 years and requires meals from 3 different hosts.
The winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus) (Figure 3) also appears to be widely distributed in the state (Figure 4). Elk and deer are primary hosts, but this tick also may be found on cattle, horses, and mules. Winter ticks are seldom found on humans. Their entire active life cycle (larva, nymph, and adult) from October to March occurs on a single host. Mated, engorged females drop to the ground in late winter and lay a large batch of eggs before they die. Larvae hatch from eggs in spring and remain inactive under ground cover until fall when they climb vegetation to await passing hosts.
Bring detached ticks to your Cooperative Extension Office so specimens can be sent to the UK Entomology Department for identification.
“Tick Checks” and Removal
Tick activity during the winter months is a relatively new phenomenon in Kentucky. Populations of these ticks are low but may become significant issues in the future. Watch for them when you hike and work outdoors. Include “tick checks” when you monitor animal health and handle pets. Ticks tend to attach where the hair coat is thin and in areas that an animal cannot groom effectively.
Remove any attached ticks carefully as follows:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove mouthparts carefully with tweezers. If you cannot remove them easily with clean tweezers, leave them alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist