South Dakota might be most famous for Mt. Rushmore, but this midwestern state is no stranger to parasitic arachnids. There are at least six species of ticks in South Dakota, several of which carry serious illnesses, including Lyme disease. Ticks may look like insects, but they’re actually not bugs, like flies or mosquitos. Instead, ticks belong to the arachnid family, which also includes spiders, mites, and scorpions. Unlike spiders and scorpions though, ticks don’t hunt and consume their prey—they just drink its blood.
Here, we’ll learn about the ticks in South Dakota and where you might find them. We’ll learn how to identify each species of tick and what diseases and pathogens each species carries. Then, we’ll find out which ticks carry Lyme disease and how to avoid their infectious bites.
Read on to learn more about the ticks in South Dakota!
American Dog Tick
American dog ticks in South Dakota live throughout the state. They do not transmit Lyme disease, but they carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. They’re not likely to be found in forests. Instead, these ticks live in grasslands and are most common during the spring and summer months.
American dog ticks are red-brown, with small mouthparts and brown legs. Females have a tan scutum (the round shield on the shoulders), and males have tan mottling across the body.
Lone Star Tick
Lone star ticks in South Dakota do not transmit Lyme disease, but they carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, human monocytic ehrlichiosis, and other diseases. These ticks are not common in the state and have only occasionally been seen in the southeastern corner.
Lone star ticks have red-brown bodies with large mouthparts and brown legs. Females have a distinct ‘lone star’ marking in the center of their back. Males have only some tan mottling.
Though not often seen by humans, winter ticks live throughout the state. They rarely bite people and are not associated with any pathogens or illnesses. As their name suggests, these ticks are active in the fall and winter months. Unlike other ticks, which take multiple hosts in their life cycle, the winter tick stays on one host for the duration of its life. This can lead to massive infestations of tens of thousands of winter ticks on a single animal.
Black-legged ticks are the only ticks in South Dakota capable of spreading Lyme disease. These ticks have black legs, orange-brown bodies, and very large mouthparts. Only female black-legged ticks actively feed; they’re capable of biting humans throughout the year, as long as temperatures are above freezing.
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
Rocky Mountain wood ticks in South Dakota carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Colorado tick fever virus. But, they don’t carry Lyme disease. These ticks live only on the western edge of the state.
Rocky Mountain wood ticks are dark brown, with no tan or red markings. They have pear-shaped bodies and small mouthparts. They’re more likely to bite deer, coyotes, rabbits, foxes, badgers, and other medium-sized mammals than humans.
Brown Dog Tick
Brown dog ticks actually live indoors, wherever there are dogs. They don’t carry Lyme disease, but they can transmit canine diseases. These ticks in South Dakota have narrow brown bodies, brown legs, and small mouthparts. They’re most likely to be found near a dog’s ears or belly.
Do Ticks in South Dakota have Lyme Disease?
Luckily for residents of the state, the only ticks in South Dakota that carry Lyme disease are black-legged ticks. These ticks are easy to identify for two reasons. First, they’re the only ticks in South Dakota that have black legs. Second, they only live in the eastern third of the state. Additionally, black-legged ticks live almost exclusively in areas with populations of white-tailed deer. If you think you’ve been bitten by a black-legged tick, contact your primary care physician as soon as possible.
How to Avoid Ticks in South Dakota
There are two basic steps to preventing tick bites. The first has to do with keeping the ticks off of you in the first place, and the second has to do with keeping them off your skin if they happen to climb aboard.
Ticks love tall grass, thick brush, and dense forest detritus. Remember, ticks can’t run or even jump, so they rely on you coming to them. So, stay out of tall grasses and underbrush that come into contact with your person. Every leaf that touches you is like a little highway for ticks. Also, don’t dig around in the dead leaves of the forest floor, or you just might find a nasty surprise.
The next step in protecting yourself from ticks is to protect your skin with your clothes. Ticks can’t bite through clothing, but they will try to find ways around it. That’s why, when hiking in tick country, it’s best to wear long sleeves, pants, and long socks. If you’re particularly worried, you can tuck your pants into your socks, and your shirt into your pants. This effectively closes off all the routes ticks might take to get to your blood.