Ticks: Average Lifespans & Where You’ll Find Them in the United States

Chris Ching

Ticks. Although small, are dangerous to humans and animals and can even be deadly. Best known as a carrier to Lyme disease, an illness that has been around for thousands of years but only recognized in the United States since the 1960s and 1970s. Lyme disease is not the only tick borne illness to be wary of, but is one of the most common and diagnosed diseases that come from a tick bite in the US.

 

Where are Ticks in the United States?

Ticks are in all 50 states, and yes that even includes Alaska. However, Lyme Disease and other tick borne diseases can’t be contracted from all ticks. There are a select few states that make up 95% of Lyme Disease cases spanning from the Northeast to the Midwest: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. There are 16 tick borne diseases that come from the seven main species of ticks in the United States, and while everyone tells you to stay protected from spring to summer, no time of year is safe from ticks. 

Ticks are most active during the spring and summer months. However, many states are experiencing warmer winter months, and as a result, ticks are being found further north because temperatures are tolerable enough for them to survive. Ticks are active as long as temperatures range from 35 to 45°F; but once temperatures reach below freezing, they’ll either attach themselves to a host, or remain dormant in order to keep warm. During the winter, you can expect to find ticks throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest. 

 

Tick Life Spans 

Ticks can live up to two to three years, and go through a four-stage life cycle. In order for ticks to move from one cycle to the next, they must find a host to feed on. Some ticks will feed on the same host all four life cycles, such as brown dog ticks that prefer to (no surprise) feed on dogs. However, there are also a few tick species that feed on different types of hosts per stage. For instance, blacklegged (deer) ticks need a new host during each stage of their life cycle, and they’ll seek mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. People should be especially careful when coming in contact with these animals, as they are common hosts for ticks: deer, cattle, horses, birds, and rodents, and even your pets if they don’t receive tick prevention. 

A tick’s life is comprised of four different stages: egg, larval, nymph, and adult.

Egg Stage: Female ticks lay their eggs during the spring, which can take up to 15 days. Ticks typically lay several thousand eggs at one time; and depending on the moisture levels in the air, eggs only take two to five weeks to hatch.

Larval Stage: After molting, a period where the egg develops into a larval through the shedding of its skin, the larval begins its feeding quest. Larval seek out dogs, rodents, or humans that will provide them with enough blood to feed on for several days. 

After its feeding, a tick will detach itself and find a quiet and warm spot to begin its next round of molting, a two-week process.

Nymph Stage: After molting, ticks begin their quest to find a second host. Just like the larval stage, they prefer dogs, rodents, and humans. During this stage, a nymph is about the size of a poppy seed. The nymph stage is the most dangerous phase; not only does their small size makes them difficult to see, but nymphs are actually the most likely to transmit tick-borne diseases. The feeding process takes several days, and once the tick is full, it will begin its last molting phase, which takes anywhere from five to 10 days.  

Adult Stage: The adult stage is the final life stage for ticks, where ticks are in search of their final host. Ticks are in search of a dog, deer, human, or other warm-blooded animal, as a host. Adult ticks require less feeding time, and once full, they usually fall off their host and die. Female ticks typically survive longer than males, but will die shortly after laying their eggs, which takes place during the winter months. Adult ticks typically carry Rickettsia rickettsii (Rocky Mountain spotted fever), Colorado tick fever virus (Colorado tick fever), and Francisella tularensis (tularemia).

 

Addressing Tick Myths

Are ticks active in winter temperatures and do ticks die in the winter?

These are common questions that get asked time and time again. The answer is yes, ticks are active in winter temperatures, and no, they do not die in the winter. Unfortunately, many people don’t know this. However, it’s not wrong to assume that they would die during the winter season, especially since ticks have a reputation for thriving in extremely hot, tropical climates. This resilience also gets carried out in the winter months, where you’ll likely see adult ticks looking for their next host. Adult female ticks are especially present, as they depend on a host to supply them with enough blood, which will then allow them to lay their eggs before the spring.

Ticks do so well in winter weather that there is even a seasonal tick subspecies, and to no surprise, they are called winter ticks. A Winter tick typically feeds on large mammals, like moose, elk, and caribou, but will also attach themselves to deer, horses, and cattle.

These ticks are highly dependent on a host in order to survive frigid temperatures, and will typically remain attached to the same host their entire lifespan. However, that does not mean that they won’t seek out a human host if the opportunity presents itself. You’ll likely spot winter ticks on campground that deer travel through, such as deer carcasses or even hiking trails and campsites. If hikers and don’t make the effort to properly clean up their leftover meals, then you can expect to encounter more four-legged visitors, as well as the unwanted parasites that come along for the ride. 

Whether you’re an avid hiker, camper, or hunter,or a homeowner, you should always remain cautious and do your due diligence to prevent becoming a winter tick’s next host. 

 

Stay Tick Free

Tick diseases are difficult to diagnose, and without any warning signs, a tick bite can be easily overlooked. In fact, the CDC believes that of the 300,000 people living in the United States with Lyme Disease; meanwhile the CDC predicts that 270,000 cases of Lyme Disease go unreported. The reason why so many cases go unreported is because of how difficult it is to accurately identify tick-borne diseases. In fact, symptoms of Lyme disease are very similar to other chronic illnesses, like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis (MS).For this reason, we cannot stress just how important tick prevention is every month of the year.

The most effective thing you can do to prevent a tick bite is by applying a trusted and long-lasting tick repellent. Our picaridin repellent is an effective and EPA registered deet alternative that offers 12 hours of protection. Follow these steps to further protect yourself from tick-borne diseases. 

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