Ixodes scapularis, the black-legged or deer tick, has been recorded in at least 47 United States. As communities continue residential and commercial development, animals carrying ticks are forced to find new food, water, and shelter sources. This can mean roaming your neighborhood or property, making it more likely to come in closer contact with ticks and putting you at risk for a deer tick bite.
Climate change is another factor causing a rise in human-tick encounters. Weather changes lead to animals migrating to new areas or into your space, taking ticks with them. When someone travels, especially with pets, there is a chance they are carrying a tick to a new location. The number of reported cases of Lyme disease is rising across the country. This includes outside of the country as well, such as Canada. You must know how to identify deer ticks, their bites, and symptoms and get help if needed.
Identify a Deer Tick Bite
Deer ticks have four life cycles and can look very different in each stage. Female ticks live between two and three years. During that time, they develop through the life cycles, and in the final phase, they mate with a male deer tick that dies soon after. The female tick lays her eggs and then also dies. You can recognize deer ticks in each stage of life by distinguishing traits.
The Egg Stage
A female deer tick can lay thousands of eggs, typically in summer. Eggs remain attached until they hatch, usually to a blade of grass or a leaf. Eggs can appear translucent but with brown and red coloring. Hatching into larvae can occur between two weeks and two months.
The 6-Legged Larvae Stage
Deer tick larvae have six legs and are about the size of a grain. When born, larvae are flat because they need to feed for the first time. The scutum on their bag is like a bag that holds the blood they consume from a mammal. When filled, it becomes engorged and will make the tick easier to see. As soon as they can, they attach to their first host, a mouse, vole, or another small animal in the wild.
The white-footed mouse is a known carrier of Lyme disease bacteria, which is how many ticks become infected. After feeding, the larvae drop back onto the ground, molting into a nymph.
The 8-Legged Nymph Stage
Growing into the nymph life stage usually happens between fall and spring when temperatures are more relaxed. If temperatures drop below freezing, deer ticks will go dormant. They do not die, however. Nymphs have eight legs and a dorsal shield covering their abdomen. They are very hard to see since they are the size of a poppy seed. When their scutum flattens, they must feed again.
The 8-legged nymph can attach to humans in this stage, but they often cling to larger pets and wildlife. It depends on where they are living. If in your yard, they may attach to pets and humans. If they live in the forest, they will attach to rabbits, raccoons, rats, skunks, etc.
The larger the tick gets, the larger the host will be. After feeding for four or five days, nymphs will drop to the ground again to molt into adults.
The Adult Deer Tick Stage
Adult deer ticks are in the final stage of life. Molting from a nymph to an adult usually begins in summer and ends in fall. Male adult deer ticks are smaller than females and appear dark brown or black. Female adults have black shields with amber or brown scutum on their backs. When engorged, they can grow to the size of a raisin.
Adult deer ticks will feed on their host for several days until fully engorged. Then, they drop to the ground for the final time, mating, breeding, laying eggs, and dying.
Identify Symptoms of a Deer Tick Bite
Many people associate a round, bullseye rash with a deer tick bite. Much of the time, this is true. Any round rash, no matter the size, with or without a bite mark in the center, should be investigated for Lyme disease.
Not everyone will receive a rash, or their rash may appear in a more private location on the body and go unnoticed. Therefore, knowing all the symptoms of a deer tick bite is crucial.
The bite itself is not a bite. When a tick attaches to your body, it will search for the best spot on your body for feeding. This can take up to two days. When ready, ticks take several actions to ensure they aren’t interrupted:
- Secrete saliva that contains a chemical anesthetic, so you don’t feel them or their activity
- Secrete cement-like substance that keeps them attached to your body
- Grabs the skin and makes a small cut on the surface
- Inserts their feeding tube through the cut
- It uses barbs attached to the feeding tube to keep them attached
Deer ticks can spend a few days feeding on your blood, transmitting any infections they have to you. When done, they will drop to the ground, leaving what appears to be a bite mark on your body.
Initial symptoms of Lyme disease are like those of other conditions, the flu or COVID-19. You may have a fever, chills, sweats, nausea, digestive problems, stiff neck, and tiredness even though you should have energy. The more prolonged Lyme disease is left untreated, the more developed symptoms become. Chronic infections can lead to Bell’s palsy, arthritis, painful swelling, extreme fatigue, and much more.
Lyme infections affect the brain and nervous system and can cause depression, anxiety, brain fog, or concentration problems. You may feel on edge, moody, irritable, and easily agitated at work, home, school, or social settings.
Identify Treatments for Deer Tick Bites
Numerous treatment options exist for people who have contracted Lyme disease through a tick bite. If you think you have been bitten by a deer tick, even if it has been months and whether you have a rash or other symptoms, call a Lyme-literate doctor with specialized training in Lyme disease. Do not hesitate since treating Lyme disease early can prevent new and more painful symptoms.