With their small size and numerous legs, ticks may look like insects. But don’t let their looks fool you—ticks are actually arachnids. They’re closely related to spiders, mites, and scorpions. Unlike other creatures that subsist off of plants or meat, ticks actually need only one thing to survive: blood. There are very few tick-free places on Earth, and Kentucky, in the southern United States, is no exception. There are at least seven types of ticks in Kentucky, and they all have a taste for blood.
Here, we’ll learn about the most common species of ticks in Kentucky. Then, we’ll go over the worst times of year for ticks in Kentucky. Finally, we’ll discover which species spread Lyme disease, and why you should watch out for these tiny menaces.
1. Gulf Coast Tick
Small, and rarely found outside the coastal regions of the southeastern United States, the gulf coast tick lives in grassy meadows. Both males and females have red-brown bodies with yellow-brown legs and visible heads. They’re most common in the summer months. Though not vectors of Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease, these ticks do occasionally infect hosts with other types of spotted fever.
2. American Dog Tick
American dog ticks are one of the most common ticks in Kentucky. They can live for up to two years without blood; their favorite prey is the domestic dog. Like other hard-bodied ticks, the American dog tick has eight legs and an oval-shaped body. They generally live near trails or in open grasslands.
Adult female American dog ticks have red-brown bodies with tan, mottled scuta—the hard shields that cover their shoulders. Males have much more mottling, and larger scuta, making them paler than the females. American dog ticks don’t transmit Lyme disease, but they can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Tularemia.
3. Asian Longhorned Tick
One of the most interesting ticks in Kentucky is the Asian longhorned tick. These hard-bodied ticks are entirely dark brown in color, and females are significantly larger than males. Their heads are very small and barely visible from above. They usually inhabit forested areas as well as open grasslands, and are most active in the summer. They don’t carry Lyme disease, though researchers believe it likely that they transmit other pathogens through their bites.
4. Lone Star Tick
Lone star ticks are one of the most common ticks in Kentucky. Adults have rounded, red-brown bodies and visible mouthparts. They’re most active in the summer months, when they aggressively seek out hosts. Unlike other ticks in Kentucky, which passively wait for hosts to brush by, lone star ticks actively quest for hosts. This means that, terrifyingly enough, lone star ticks actually chase their prey.
But, lone star ticks aren’t just scary because of their hunting tactics, they’re also known vectors for several serious pathogens. These include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis, Bourbon virus, Southern tick-associated rash illness, and Heartland virus. There are even reports of people developing allergies to red meat after bites from these ticks in Kentucky.
5. Winter Tick
Winter ticks (Dermacentor albopictus) have long, narrow bodies, with small heads. They’re unique among ticks in Kentucky in that they take only one host in their lifetime, rather than several. Winter ticks aren’t known for biting humans, and they’re not vectors for any serious diseases or illnesses. For the most part, winter ticks blend into the background of Kentucky wilderness.
6. Black-legged Tick
Ixodes scapularis, the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick. These tiny bloodsuckers are one of the most medically important ticks in Kentucky. Black-legged ticks are the only ticks in Kentucky that carry, and spread, Lyme disease. These ticks are easily distinguished from other ticks by their black legs. Females have orange bodies, while males have dark brown bodies. In both males and females, mouthparts are large, and bites can quickly turn serious.
7. Brown Dog Tick
Brown dog ticks are mainly a problem for dog owners. As you might have guessed from their name, they feed mostly on dogs. But, these aren’t just any old outdoor ticks—brown dog ticks actually live indoors, in close proximity to our canine companions. They rarely bite humans, but can transmit several dog-specific illnesses.
When is Tick Season in Kentucky?
Because of Kentucky’s relatively warm, humid climate, ticks may be found at any time of year. But, they’re most prevalent in the spring and fall months, when temperatures are at their most mild. Tick larvae usually hatch in the early spring, but adults can bite humans at any time of year.
Do Ticks in Kentucky carry Lyme Disease?
Deer ticks in Kentucky transmit Lyme disease, though very few cases have ever been reported. Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection that afflicts hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. Because Lyme disease is first and foremost a mimicker of other illnesses, it can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms can affect every system and organ in the body, including the brain, heart, and nervous system.
If you want to avoid tick bites, be sure to wear long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and pants. It’s easier to see ticks on light clothing, and the long sleeves create a barrier between the ticks, and your skin.