Ticks are not a common occurrence in Alaska, though during the summer months, they can be a real nuisance. While not all 8 of the ticks in Alaska prefer humans as hosts, they’re still of great concern because of their potential to spread disease.
Alaska has always played host to some ticks, but the kind of ticks that can be found in Alaska is increasing. Numerous invasive species are making the state home. While there aren’t any reported cases of locally contracted Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever in Alaska, these invasive species may change that story soon.
Most of the invasive ticks discovered in Alaska have come to the state from domesticated dogs originating in the lower 48 states, specifically the American south. The invasive ticks commonly found on dogs are also fond of cattle, but each head of cattle is inspected for ticks before it’s allowed to cross the state border. It’s also suspected that they’re coming in on migratory animals.
Ticks are arachnids which makes them closely related to scorpions and spiders. What are 8 ticks you will encounter in Alaska? We’ll go over some details about these important arachnids.
8 Ticks in Alaska
These are 8 of the ticks you’ll find in Alaska:
- Rabbit Tick
- American Dog Tick
- Ixodes Angustus
- Brown Dog Tick
- Squirrel Tick
- Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
- Lone Star Tick
- Seabird Tick
1. Rabbit Tick
Rabbit ticks in Alaska have been shown to carry tularemia, and it’s suspected that they may become a vector for Rocky Mountain spotted fever. This is still alarming, even if they rarely bite humans. They prefer grouse and rabbits.
These ticks are a lighter reddish-brown, and they’re the size of a sesame seed.
2. American Dog Tick
Also called wood ticks, American dog ticks are most commonly found on dogs, but they’ll make a meal of a human. These ticks are large with a dark black body and tan markings on their backs.
This tick is not native to Alaska, but it’s established itself in the state. This is concerning because the American dog tick is a well-known vector of Rocky Mountain spotted fever which could introduce the pathogen to the state.
These ticks aren’t a big fan of forests and are most commonly found in grass and low-lying vegetation.
3. Ixodes Angustus in Alaska
Ixodes Angustus is a tick that’s native to Alaska. It prefers hares and squirrels. It rarely chows down on humans, but it’s not an event that’s impossible. These ticks are the most common tick parasitizing wild mammals in the state.
They like to make a home in the nests of small mammals, and they live on the ground whenever possible. Examples of mammals that they target are red squirrels, northern red-backed voles, and deer mice. They have to stay moist so they don’t dry up, but how they do that while infesting nests is unknown.
4. Brown Dog Tick
Brown dog ticks are an invasive species in Alaska. The appearance of these ticks varies dramatically depending on whether they have eaten or not. They are tiny before eating but once engorged, they are the size of a grape.
Unlike most other ticks, these ticks live their entire lives indoors. They’re really common in urban areas due to the abundance of domesticated dogs in cities and suburbs. Brown dog ticks hang out in the bedding and kennels of dogs because that keeps them close to their favorite food source.
5. Squirrel Tick in Alaska
These ticks are lighter in color than most other ticks. Females are tan, and males are light brown. They have a darker half oval on their backs.
They rarely bite humans as they prefer smaller prey like rats, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rabbits, and foxes. They are found most often in squirrel nests as they like to make a home within the nests of small mammals.
They’re vectors for the Powassan virus and tularemia.
6. Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
This tick is a new addition to the Alaskan tick scene as it’s invasive. Rocky Mountain wood ticks transmit rickettsia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Colorado tick fever virus.
Sparsely wooded areas, shrublands, grass along trails, and fields are the preferred habitat of this tick. Rarely, a bite from this tick can cause tick paralysis that goes away up to 72 hours after the tick is removed.
Rocky Mountain wood ticks will readily feed on dogs, cats, and people. They look so similar to American dog ticks that they’re only distinguishable under a microscope. They’re not fans of the dry heat of summer, so they’re most active in the late spring. They will go 600 days without a meal if necessary.
7. Lone Star Tick
The lone star tick is another invasive species in Alaska. Females are easily identified by the characteristic white dot on their backs. The rest of their bodies are red-brown.
They’re also known as water ticks, and they readily bite humans. Other prey includes domesticated animals, mice, deer, raccoons, and turkeys.
8. Seabird Tick
Seabird ticks are found mostly on coastal birds. They like to congregate in their nests for easy access to food. They’re not much of a threat to humans, and they rarely bite people.
These ticks vary in color from tan to dark brown. When engorged, they resemble a rabbit tick and can be over half an inch in size.
Antarctica plays host to these ticks, and they’re the only tick on the continent. They tolerate cold extremely well, and they’re usually more abundant at higher altitudes.
These ticks do transmit Lyme disease, though their propensity to only feed on seabirds keeps them from transmitting the disease to humans. There is a possibility that these ticks could infest a host that then will come in contact with other ticks that may bite a human, but the probability is extremely low.
Seabird ticks aren’t considered a high priority for concern even though they’re one of the 8 ticks on our list that transmit diseases.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/epantha
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