Ticks in Rhode Island

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: June 10, 2022
Image Credit 7th Son Studio/Shutterstock.com
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For residents and visitors to Rhode Island, changing climate conditions have led to a rise in ticks. This means that there are more ticks in Rhode Island than ever before, and with more ticks, come more bites. By themselves, ticks present little to no danger to their hosts (unless they attack en masse, in the case of the winter tick and moose). But, it’s not the tick that you should worry about—it’s what they carry in their saliva.

Ticks are vectors for diseases, pathogens, and infections. This means that they do not suffer from these afflictions themselves but may pass them on to unsuspecting hosts, like humans. Ticks in Rhode Island can transmit Powassan virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, Lyme disease, and more, to their human blood banks. 

So, if you’re planning on going outdoors in Rhode Island anytime soon, it’s best to know a little bit about ticks, so you can avoid them. Let’s take a look at the ticks you might encounter, and how to keep them away from your blood. 

American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

Female American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis, sitting on a rock.
These ticks are the largest species of ticks in Rhode Island, and one of the most aggressive.

Elliotte Rusty Harold/Shutterstock.com

American dog ticks are medium brown with medium brown legs. Females have brown abdomens and tan scuta, which present as a mantle behind the mouthparts. Males lack the distinct scuta, having instead wholly mottled tan and brown abdomens. These ticks have small mouthparts but are overall larger than any other tick in Rhode Island.

American dog ticks don’t transmit Lyme disease, but they are the primary vector for Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)

The lone star tick frequently bites humans and their canine companions.

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Lone star ticks have some of the largest mouthparts of any ticks in Rhode Island. That means that the bite of a lone star tick more often leads to infection. Female lone star ticks have brown bodies and brown legs, with a single, cream-colored dot in the center of their backs. Males lack the dot, having instead brown bodies, brown legs, and black mottling on the abdomen. 

Lone star ticks do not carry Lyme disease. They are, however, the main vector for human monocytic ehrlichiosis. These ticks are aggressive feeders, and may even follow carbon dioxide trails to find hosts.

Winter Tick (Dermacentor albipictus)

Winter tick
These ticks almost never bite humans; they prefer large hosts, like deer, elk, and moose.

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Winter ticks are some of the least well-known ticks in Rhode Island. But, winter ticks can actually be found throughout North America. They’re small and brown, and unlike other ticks, remain active in the fall and winter, rather than the spring and summer. These ticks feed almost exclusively on large mammals and are only occasionally encountered by hunters in the fall and winter. 

Winter ticks take only one host for their entire life cycle. Unfortunately for the host, this means that infestations can lead to anemia and even death. This is the case for the so-called ‘ghost’ moose of Canada and the northern United States. These moose have been found with up to 100,000 live ticks on their bodies.

Black-legged Tick (Ixodes scapularis)

A wet deer tick crawling on natural dewy leaf with water drops.
The black-legged tick is the most worrisome of all the ticks in Rhode Island; they’re the only species that carries Lyme disease.

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Also known as deer ticks, the black-legged tick is one of the most common ticks in Rhode Island. Black-legged ticks are so named for the distinct black coloring of their legs, a trait not shared with any of Rhode Island’s other tick species. Females have orange-brown bodies with black scuta and large mouthparts. Males lack the orange-brown coloring, but still have black legs along with their brown abdomens.

Out of all the ticks in Rhode Island, the black-legged tick is the only species that can spread Lyme disease to humans. These ticks feed on a variety of animals, including mice, rats, lizards, birds, raccoons, white-tailed deer, foxes, and badgers.

Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)

The brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus isolated on white background.
The brown dog tick exists mostly indoors, near humans, and canines.

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Brown dog ticks have narrow, brown bodies. They’re found principally indoors, near dogs, and almost always feed off of domestic canines. Occasionally they bite humans or even cats. These ticks cannot spread Lyme disease, but they do carry canine-specific diseases. In the case of bites on humans, they may spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

When are Ticks Most Active in Rhode Island?

Ticks in Rhode Island are most active in the spring, summer, and fall months. Activity levels drop during the hottest months of the year. During the winter, ticks either die or go into hibernation in forest leaf litter. Females lay eggs in the late fall which hatch in the spring.

Do Ticks in Rhode Island have Lyme Disease?

Tick Header - Tick Burrowed In
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected black-legged ticks.

Evgeniyqw/Shutterstock.com

Lyme disease is a real problem in Rhode Island. In fact, Rhode Island ranks fourth in the United States for incidences of tick-caused Lyme disease. The only ticks in Rhode Island that spread Lyme disease are black-legged ticks. Unfortunately, these ticks are very common in the state, as is Lyme disease.

How to Avoid Ticks in Rhode Island

The most important step in avoiding ticks in Rhode Island is staying out of thick foliage, tall grass, and forest leaf litter. Ticks can’t run or jump; instead, they rely on potential hosts brushing up against them in the grass or shrubbery. So, stay on trail, and don’t dig around in the forest leaf litter.

Additionally, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts of light-colored fabric. If you’re really worried, you can even tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants. This reduces the tick’s pathways to your skin. Finally, spray your clothing with permethrin-containing insect repellant. But, be careful not to spray it directly on your skin.

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