Groundhog Tick

Ixodes cookei

Last updated: January 16, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/jonnysek

Groundhog ticks carry the Powassan virus which can cause brain-swelling.

Groundhog Tick Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Arachnida
Order
Ixodida
Family
Ixodidae
Genus
Ixodes
Scientific Name
Ixodes cookei

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Groundhog Tick Conservation Status

Groundhog Tick Locations

Groundhog Tick Locations

Groundhog Tick Facts

Prey
groundhogs, raccoons, weasels, mice, squirrels, foxes, birds, dogs, and cats
Name Of Young
larvae
Group Behavior
  • Solitary except during mating season
Fun Fact
Groundhog ticks carry the Powassan virus which can cause brain-swelling.
Estimated Population Size
unknown
Most Distinctive Feature
shield-like scutum
Other Name(s)
woodchuck tick
Predators
opossums, chicken, frogs, spiders, ants, fire ants, lizards, guinea fowl, turkeys, mites, and nematodes.
Diet
Omnivore
Favorite Food
blood
Type
arachnid
Origin
North America
Location
United States, Canada
Age of Molting
depends on each blood meal

Groundhog Tick Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Red
  • Tan
  • Light-Brown
Skin Type
Exoskeleton
Lifespan
2 years
Length
0.125 in
Venomous
No

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Groundhog ticks carry the Powassan virus which can cause brain-swelling.

Groundhog Tick Facts

  • The groundhog tick is a small but deadly parasite. It is a vector of the Powassan virus which causes Powassan encephalitis and meningitis.
  • Groundhog ticks inhabit grassy and forestry areas, but they can live comfortably in crevices inside your house as well. This is why it is important to check yourself and your pet of ticks after returning from the outdoors.
  • Groundhog ticks don’t usually attack people but they can because they are opportunistic feeders.
  • Scientists are researching how to use the saliva proteins from ticks to combat heart attack and stroke.

Summary

The phrase “small, but deadly” is an understatement when talking about the groundhog tick. No bigger than a sesame seed, this parasite latches itself onto its host and feeds by sucking their blood. You might find them on your pet after a long day hiking or playing in the a grassy area in the northeastern part of North America. These small hard-bodied ticks are vectors of dangerous viruses, the most prominent one being the Powassan virus.

Groundhog Tick Scientific Name

The groundhog tick is a species of tick classified as Ixodes cookei. They are predominantly found in the eastern half of the United States as well as Canada. They are called groundhog ticks because they are parasites to groundhogs, as well as other animals.

These ticks are arachnids because they belong to the class Arachnida. They are also categorized into the order Ixodida to which all ticks belong and to the family Ixodidae which comprises of hard-bodied ticks.

The groundhog tick is also known as the woodchuck tick.

Groundhog Tick Evolution and History

Scientists have not been able to ascertain the exact timeframe at which ticks came into existence. However, the oldest tick fossils that have been found in amber are dated back 90 to 100 million years ago at the time of the Cretaceous Epoch. The fossil was of a bird tick that belonged to the soft tick family Argasidae. Research suggests that the last common ancestor of every living tick probably lived around 195 million years ago.

Ticks are obligate hematophages which means that they need blood to survive. they are believed to have evolved this trait 120 million years ago.

Groundhog Tick Appearance

Groundhog Tick
Groundhog ticks are tiny, parasitic animals whose diet is hematophagous, or consists of the ingestion of blood.

©1,634 × 914 pixels, file size: 177 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg – License

They belong to the hard tick family, Ixodidae. They are pear-shaped and reddish-brown. Adult female groundhog ticks are generally one-eighth of an inch (0.125 inches) in length and slightly bigger than the males. Larvae and juvenile ticks are colored a lighter tan and they are smaller than the adults.

The groundhog tick body is made up of two main parts: the head or capitulum, and the body or idiosoma. They have a fused cephalothorax and abdomen. Located on their heads are the palps which contains the tick’s mouth pieces known as the hypostome. The palps pull back to reveal the mouth when the tick attaches itself onto its host. Their bodies are covered in short, barbed hairs. Ticks do not have eyes.

Hard ticks have a characteristic feature known as a scutum which is a shield-shaped plate located on their backs. Female groundhog ticks have brown scutums. Just like almost all other arachnids, adult groundhog ticks have eight legs. They have sensors on the tips of their front legs called Haller’s organs which are used to detect a potential host.

Identification

Identifying a groundhog tick might prove difficult because they closely resemble the black-legged deer tick which is a vector of Lyme disease. There are several ways to tell these two parasites apart. Groundhog ticks have a shield-shaped scutum while deer ticks have a circular one. Also, while groundhog ticks are more active in the summer, black-legged deer ticks are more active in the spring and fall. These two species of ticks are usually best differentiated with the use of a microscope.

Ticks have special proteins called evasines in their saliva which are anti-inflammatory. This enables them to attach to the host and feed on them without being noticed.

Groundhog Tick Behavior

Groundhog ticks are parasitic arachnids which means that they depend on feeding on their host to survive. Since they don’t have eyes and can’t see, they have to rely on other means to locate their prey. These blood-sucking critters are able to find their target host by sniffing them out, feeling the heat and moisture they give off, the carbon dioxide they breathe out, and even their vibrations.

Groundhog ticks are vectors of the Powassan virus which causes Powassan encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, as well as a host of other symptoms such as fever, nausea, confusion, seizures, and can lead to permanent neurological damage. This disease has a fatality rate of 10% to 15%. They can also be carriers of the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, but they are not considered vectors for the disease’s transmission.

The groundhog tick becomes infected with the Powassan virus by sucking the blood of an animal also infected by it, usually a groundhog, mouse, squirrel, or any other rodent. The tick seldom bites human beings, but it isn’t entirely unheard for them to do so. The Powassan virus is spread this way so people who are diagnosed with the virus should refrain from donating blood until advised to do so.

Ticks are seen as ecologically important because many animals prey on them. Their tick-borne diseases are seen as a form of biological animal population control.

Groundhog Tick Diet

Groundhog ticks are tiny, parasitic animals whose diet is hematophagous, or consists of the ingestion of blood. They are opportunistic feeders and will prey on small mammals such as groundhogs, raccoons, weasels, mice, squirrels, foxes, dogs, and cats. They are also known to feed on birds such as robins. These ticks are rarely known to attach to humans.

Groundhog Tick Habitat and Population

This species can be found throughout the eastern half of the United States as well as regions in Canada such as Quebec and Ontario. In Maine, they are the most common tick species, and they are abundant in the New England region.

These ticks love warm, subtropical climate zones and humidity. Although they prefer the great outdoors, inhabiting tall grassy areas, they can also live indoors in kennel ceilings, and indoor cracks and holes. Groundhog ticks like to reside in close proximity to their target hosts so they can be found around their host’s dens and nests.

Groundhog Tick Reproduction and Lifespan

The life cycle of a tick is unique because it depends on environmental conditions and the obtainability of a host. Ticks need blood in order to transition from one life stage to the next.

They have three life cycle stages: larva, nymph, and adult. They are categorized as three-host ticks which means that they feed once during each stage of development. Once they find a host and feed, they fall off and transform into the next stage of their life cycle by molting. During their third and final stage, the adult ticks find mates for themselves.

The adult female tick needs a blood meal in order to harness the proteins required to lay eggs. Once enough blood is retrieved, the female tick will simply detach from her host and lay her eggs. Once her eggs are laid, she dies.

Groundhog ticks can survive about a year and sometimes longer without finding a host to feed on. On average, these ticks have a lifespan of two years. They are most active in the summer, peaking around July.

Groundhog Tick Predators and Threats

They have many natural predators. The opossum is one of the foremost tick predator, consuming about 5,000 ticks in just one season. Other predators of the groundhog tick include chicken, frogs, spiders, ants, fire ants, lizards, guinea fowl, turkeys, mites, and nematodes.

Some of these animals, especially the rodents, do not seek out ticks in the wild. They do, however, eat the ticks that they happen to find on their bodies during their grooming process.

Groundhog Tick Prevention

Groundhog ticks are parasites and vectors for the harmful Powassan virus. Although this disease is considered a rare one, it is a very dangerous virus which can cause encephalitis as well as meningitis which affects the brain and spinal cord. These ticks spread the virus by feeding on animals with the virus in their bloodstream and then biting a person or another animal.

They are usually found in tall grassy areas and forestry zones. they can also be found in your home if they attach to you or your pet from the outside. It is important to always cover your exposed skin when you are going out hiking such as your arms and legs. You should also rake or comb over your pet’s fur and check their bodies for ticks before entering your house.

If a tick is found on your body or your pet’s, remove it immediately as close to the skin as you can get with tweezers without squeezing it. You can crush the tick with a rock or flush it down the toilet.

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About the Author

Hi! I am a writer, actor, and filmmaker. Reading is my favorite hobby. Watching old movies and taking short naps are a close second and third. I have been writing since childhood, with a vast collection of handwritten books sealed away in a duffel bag somewhere in my room. I love fiction, especially fantasy and adventure. I recently won the James Currey Prize 2022, so now, naturally, I feel like I own words. When I was 11, I wanted to be a marine biologist because I love animals, particularly dogs, cats, and owls. I also enjoy potatoes and chocolate in all their glorious forms.

Groundhog Tick FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are groundhog ticks dangerous?

Groundhog ticks are parasitic animals and are also vectors of the Powassan virus which can cause encephalitis and meningitis. This disease is fatal about 10-15% of the time.

 

How long do groundhog ticks live for?

Groundhog ticks have an average lifespan of two years.

What eats groundhog ticks?

Predators of the groundhog tick include opossums, chicken, frogs, spiders, ants, fire ants, lizards, guinea fowl, turkeys, mites, and nematodes.

What do groundhog ticks eat?

Groundhog ticks are parasitic arachnids. They are hematophagous which means they feed on blood. They prey on animal blood from groundhogs, raccoons, weasels, mice, squirrels, foxes, dogs, and cats. They are also known to feed on birds such as robins. Groundhog ticks are rarely known to feed on humans.

Where do groundhog ticks live?

The groundhog tick is found in the northeastern part of North America. They are located throughout the eastern half of the United States as well as parts of Canada. They are the most abundant tick species in Maine. They inhabit the nests and dens of their hosts or live nearby. They can also live in your house if they are brought in by a host.

What should I do if i get bitten by a groundhog tick?

If you find a groundhog tick on you, carefully pluck it off with a tweezer. Make sure you grasp it from its mouthparts and don’t squeeze the tick’s body. Flush it down the toilet or crush it with a rock. Then go to the hospital for a test to see if it passes on any pathogens to you.

What Kingdom do groundhog ticks belong to?

Groundhog ticks belong to the kingdom, Animalia.

 

What phylum do groundhog ticks belong to?

Groundhog ticks belong to the phylum, Arthropoda.

What class do groundhog ticks belong to?

Groundhog ticks belong to the class Arachnida.

What order do groundhog ticks belong to?

Groundhog ticks belong to the order, Ixodida.

What family do groundhog ticks belong to?

Groundhog ticks belong to the family, Ixodidae.

What genus do groundhog ticks belong to?

Groundhog ticks belong to the genus, Ixodes.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tick#Ixodidae_2
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ixodidae
  3. University of Maine Extension, Available here: https://extension.umaine.edu/ticks/maine-ticks/woodchuck-tick/
  4. CDC, Available here: https://www.cdc.gov/powassan/transmission.html
  5. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ixodes_cookei

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