Ticks can make outdoor activities very uncomfortable, as well as pose a potential health threat (see Ticks and Disease in Kentucky EntFact 618). Tick season extends from mid-March through August across the Commonwealth.
Important Kentucky Ticks
Lone Star Tick
Tick season typically begins with hungry adult (Figure 1) and nymphal lone star ticks (LST) looking for blood meals in spring and ends with the itchy miseries from feeding or their tiny larvae (also called seed ticks and turkey mites) during August and September. LST is our number one nuisance tick. All three life stages of this aggressive tick readily feed on humans. The small size of the larvae and nymphs makes them easy to overlook when compared to the larger adults. Saliva injected as these ticks feed can cause intense itching that can last for 7 to 10 days.
American Dog Tick
The American dog tick (Figure 2), traditionally our second most troublesome tick, is active from April through August. While it can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the incidence of infected ticks is very low in Kentucky. Only the adults feed on humans and medium large-sized mammals. Their size makes them easier to detect and remove before they begin to attach and feed. American dog ticks are much less common and the typical reaction to bites is not as strong as for lone star ticks.
Lyme Disease Awareness Month
May is Lyme disease awareness month. The black legged tick (BLT), the primary vector of the disease, is being encountered more frequently in the state. While the incidence of confirmed Lyme disease cases in Kentucky is low (Figure 3), it is important to have some background information and to know how to protect yourself from all ticks.
Table 1 summarizes the confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported from Kentucky, neighboring states, and the nation’s averages from 2005 to 2015. Southern populations of the BLT do not seem to be effective vectors of Lyme disease, or the incidence of the pathogen is very low in reservoir animals (small mammals). However, the range of the BLT is expanding through movement of deer and birds. Movement into the state may be coming from the north and south with an ensuing increase in competent vectors. Their incidence in the state may increase over time.
Table 1. Incidence (cases per 100,000 people) of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Kentucky and neighboring states (2005 to 2015) (Source: Centers for Disease Control).
3-year average incidence
Year of highest (incidence)
Protecting Yourself From Ticks – Think Low
Ticks don’t just fall out of trees. Hungry ticks crawl to the tops of grass blades (Figure 4) and other low vegetation, waiting patiently for signs of an approaching host. These signs can include CO2, warmth, and motion detected through vibration or limited vision. Stimulated ticks will extend their front legs to grasp the passing potential blood meal.
The key to protecting yourself from ticks is to avoid tall grass and use repellents and clothing treatments to disrupt their feeding process.
Check regularly for ticks and remove them carefully – in general, ticks carrying pathogens must feed for several hours before transmission occurs
1) Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible.
2) 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 the mouthparts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
3) After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
4) 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.
See your doctor if a rash or fever develops within several weeks of removing a tick. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist