The American dog tick or wood tick is found in almost every area of the United States and it is the only species of tick found only in North America. American dog ticks prefer dogs as hosts, unlike many ticks that infest deer and other wildlife. The wood tick is the number one carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but it can also transmit other diseases to pets.
The American dog tick is about 5 mm (3/16″) when unengorged and three times larger, or 15 mm, when engorged with blood. American dog ticks are brown with mottled gray or whitish patterns on the back and a flattened, oval-shaped body. As larvae, they have six legs. Nymph and adult ticks have eight legs.
It is believed that wood ticks are attracted to the scent of animals and this is why they are commonly found along trails and roads. American dog ticks usually live in grassy areas of low vegetation where large mammals like dogs will pass through. Unlike the brown dog tick, the America dog tick does not survive for long indoors.
Like other ticks, these arachnids are parasites that feed on a host’s blood. Ticks use claws and hairs on their body to crawl through a host’s fur before digging under the skin with specialized mouthparts. The mouth releases an anesthetic as the host drinks.
After mating on the dog host, adult female ticks will detach and find a place to lay eggs. When indoors, this is often done in a potted plant, but outdoors ticks will lay eggs underneath leaves in a garden. A single American dog tick can lay up to 5,000 eggs at once.
When the larvae emerge from the eggs, they will seek out small hosts like mice, squirrels, and chipmunks and feed until they are engorged before dropping off and developing into nymphs. Nymphs will attach to a new host and drink for about 6 days before dropping off and molting into an adult tick. As an adult, the tick will seek a third host, feed, and mate on the host. After mating, the male tick dies and the female drops off to lay eggs.
An American dog tick can develop fully into an adult within 3 months when conditions are ideal, but their development can take up to two years.
If you find a feeding tick on a pet, remove it by grasping it close to the mouth with tweezers, applying gentle pressure until the tick releases. Do not squeeze the body, as this can increase the risk of spreading disease. Make sure the mouthparts are completely removed from the skin.
If you have a tick infestation around your property, contact Pest Defense Solutions for a customized strategy to protect yourself and your pets from bites.