8 Ticks in Arizona: Yes There Are Ticks in the Desert!

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: June 29, 2023
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The desert is often mistaken as a place with minimal life, but the Sonoran Desert that swaths much of Arizona is home to many arachnids including ticks.

The northern part of the state plays host to temperate climates and evergreen forests. It is at a much higher elevation than Phoenix to the south. Even the deserts themselves are diverse with high deserts, low deserts, mountainous deserts, and flat deserts.

As you probably know, ticks are a common vector for some nasty diseases. While the diseases that ticks carry are rare in Arizona, they’re not unheard of and are still a cause for concern. One positive is there are no recorded cases of Lyme disease contracted in Arizona.

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What are 8 of the ticks living in Arizona that you will encounter? We’ll look at pictures of the most common ticks now as well as discuss some must-know details about each one.

8 Ticks Living in Arizona

These are 8 of the ticks that you’ll encounter in Arizona:

  1. Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
  2. Brown Dog Tick
  3. Rabbit Tick
  4. Winter Tick
  5. Western Black-legged Tick
  6. Bat Guano Tick
  7. Pacific Coast Tick
  8. Adobe Tick

1. Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, Dermacentor andersoni on a blade of grass.

Rocky Mountain wood ticks are only found in Northern Arizona.

©South12th Photography/Shutterstock.com

This tick is only found in the northernmost part of Arizona where brushy areas are common. They’re a known vector of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever. They’re red and females have a white design around their heads and on their backs.

Northern Arizona is at a high elevation which suits the Rocky Mountain tick as they’re rarely found below 4,000 feet.

2. Brown Dog Tick

The brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus isolated on white background.

The brown dog tick is the most common tick in Arizona.

©iStock.com/Goldfinch4ever

The brown dog tick is the most common tick found in Arizona and it’s a common household pest. It is one of the few ticks on earth that can live its entire life indoors. As a consequence, it’s a pest that has infested most of the globe and it is found around the world.

These ticks will more than double in size when they’re engorged with blood. They’re usually found after they attach and feed for a few hours. They are problematic because they transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever. However, the disease cannot be passed along to its host unless attachment has occurred for 6 hours.

Brown dog ticks are reddish-brown before they feed. If you’ve been to an area that has a known infestation of these ticks, make sure to inspect yourself carefully. They’re ruthless, spread easily, and thrive in indoor environments across the state.  

3. Rabbit Tick

Rabbit ticks feed on mostly rabbits.

©CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / Creative Commons – License

As the name implies, these ticks primarily feed on rabbits. They’re also a known vector for Rocky Mountain spotted fever. They love arid environments and are a problem for wild rabbit populations in the Arizonan deserts.

They rarely feed on humans. Unless you’re going to handle wild rabbits and hares, they aren’t much of a concern to people. They like to feed on or near the head, ears, or eyes.

4. Winter Tick

Winter tick

Winter ticks do fine in the AZ desert.

©iStock.com/VladK213

The winter tick prefers hooved animals and it’s also known as the moose tick. It will go after dogs, coyotes, deer, elk, horses, cattle, and beavers but rarely bite humans. This tick has been collected in the desert, especially during the cool winter months.

5. Western Black-Legged Tick

Western Black-Legged Tick

©Kaldari / Creative Commons – License

This tick needs humidity so most of Arizona is uninhabitable. It is found in isolated regions to the extreme north including the Hualapai Mountains. Even then, it is only found in the spring and summer. At the higher altitudes in Arizona where its small range exists, it prefers the edge of deciduous forests. It is rarely seen in grasses or fields.

The western black-legged tick is not the same as the deer tick which is also known as the black-legged tick minus the “western” moniker. Deer ticks are not located anywhere in Arizona.

Western black-legged ticks prefer to feed on lizards and they rarely feed on humans. They carry Lyme disease, so if you’re going to their limited range, take caution.

6. Bat Guano Tick

This isn’t a native tick to Arizona but transported through bat guano from Mexico.

©Acarologiste / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Arizona has seen bat guano ticks (Ornithodoros coprophilous) come in on imported bat dung from Mexico. A study was done almost a century ago to determine if bat guano ticks were present in the dung created by Arizonan bats. It was determined that they didn’t occur in the wild in Arizona though they were found in Texas.

7. Pacific Coast Tick

Pacific Coast Tick

©South12th Photography/Shutterstock.com

These ticks are only found in the southwestern corner of Arizona. They like large mammals like dogs and deer. They readily bite humans, so care needs to be taken if you go into their small range.

Pacific Coast ticks are especially problematic because they are a vector for a variety of diseases. Some of the diseases are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, tularemia, and anaplasmosis.

8. Adobe Tick

The adobe tick is a soft tick while most of the others on this list are hard ticks. It is one of the many soft ticks found in Arizona.

Soft ticks look a lot different than hard ticks. They’re rounder, and their mouths are not distinguishable to the naked eye like with hard ticks. Their mouths are on their bellies so you can’t see them.  

These ticks only need around 30 minutes to feed and their bite is painless. They prefer the nests of small mammals like rodents but any human sleeping in a structure near rodent nests will make a fine meal.

Summary of the 8 Ticks in Arizona

Here’s a summary of the 8 ticks of Arizona, their common hosts, and what diseases they might carry.

NumberTickHostsDiseases
1Rocky Mountain Wood Tickrodents, sheep, deerRocky Mountain spotted fever and Colorado tick fever
2Brown dog tickdogsRocky Mountain spotted fever
3Rabbit TickrabbitsRocky Mountain spotted fever
4Winter Tickdogs, coyotes, deer, elk, horses, cattle, and beaversN/A
5Western Black-Legged TicklizardsLyme disease
6Bat Guano Tickbat dungStill studying
7Pacific Coast Ticklarge mammals like dogs and deerRocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, tularemia, and anaplasmosis
8Adobe Ticksmall mammals like rodentsUnknown

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Goldfinch4ever


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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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