Ticks in Tennessee

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: June 11, 2022
Image Credit Afanasiev Andrii/Shutterstock.com
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They might look like insects, but ticks in Tennessee are actually arachnids, like scorpions, spiders, and mites. Ticks are external parasites that feed on blood from all creatures, great and small, humans included. They’re most common in warm, humid environments but can survive in even the most unlikely of places. The bite of a single tick is relatively harmless to humans, as they draw very little blood from the body. It’s the pathogens, diseases, and infections that ticks pass to their hosts through their saliva that cause the real problems.

Here, we’ll learn about the six types of ticks you might run into in Tennessee. We’ll learn what each looks like and what diseases they carry. Then, we’ll take a look at where you might run into ticks and how to avoid them and their potentially devastating bites.

Do Ticks in Tennessee have Lyme Disease?

People looking at a wood tick embedded in human skin.
Only one of the ticks in Tennessee carries Lyme disease.

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Lyme disease is a rampant bacterial infection that often goes misdiagnosed for years. One of the first signs of contraction is a red bullseye-shaped rash around the bite. However, even the tiniest tick can transmit the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, so you might not even realize that you’ve been bitten. Luckily, only one of the ticks in Tennessee carries Lyme disease. 

Deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks, are the sole vectors for Lyme disease in Tennessee and in the United States at large. Other species of tick carry other diseases, but the deer tick is the only one capable of passing Lyme disease to humans.

6 Ticks in Tennessee

1. American Dog Tick

American Dog Tick sitting on a green leaf waiting for a host.
The American dog tick is common throughout the southern and eastern United States.

iStock.com/nechaev-kon

American dog ticks in Tennessee are larger than any other species of tick. They have red-brown bodies with red-brown legs and small mouthparts. Females and males look a little different. Males have mottled tan and brown abdomens. On the other hand, females have tan shields just behind their mouthparts and brown abdomens. 

American dog ticks don’t carry Lyme disease, but they are the primary vectors for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a potentially serious illness.

2. Gulf Coast Tick

The Gulf Coast Tick
The Gulf Coast tick is only found in the southern United States.

iStock.com/cturtletrax

Gulf Coast ticks in Tennessee are frequently mistaken for deer ticks. However, Gulf Coast ticks lack the black legs of deer ticks. Instead, they have red-brown legs, with dark brown bodies and large mouthparts. These ticks feed primarily on mice, rats, squirrels, birds, and deer.

Gulf Coast ticks are vectors for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, though they rarely bite humans.

3. Deer Tick

Two deer ticks isolated on white background.
The deer tick is a tick of the eastern United States.

KPixMining/Shutterstock.com

Deer ticks are the only ticks in Tennessee with black legs. They have very large, visible mouthparts, with black shields on their shoulders. Females have orange abdomens, while males have duller dark-brown abdomens. These ticks prefer white-tailed deer but will also feed on humans, dogs, raccoons, badgers, foxes, rabbits, lizards, and birds.

Deer ticks are the sole vectors for Lyme disease in Tennessee. If you suspect you’ve been bitten by a deer tick, keep the tick after removal. You can kill it using alcohol. Then, send it to a tick lab to have it tested for Lyme disease. Also, monitor yourself and the bite area for symptoms of Lyme disease.

4. Asian Longhorned Tick

Asian Longhorned Tick
The Asian longhorned tick is not native to North America.

Public Domain

Asian longhorned ticks are tiny, medium brown ticks. Males and females look very similar. These ticks bite cattle, horses, goats, and other livestock. They do not carry any known diseases, and they rarely parasitize people.

5. Brown Dog Tick

Close-up of brown dog tick crawling on human skin.
The brown dog tick lives anywhere there are manmade structures.

iStock.com/RobertAx

Brown dog ticks in Tennessee have narrow, brown bodies with small mouthparts. Males and females have similar appearances. These ticks feed primarily off dogs and live in indoor settings. They will, however, also bite other canids, like coyotes, if the opportunity arises.

Brown dog ticks don’t carry Lyme disease, though they are vectors for a few canine-specific diseases.

6. Lone Star Tick

Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum) on a white background.
The lone star tick lives in the eastern United States.

iStock.com/epantha

Lone star ticks have round, red-brown bodies with large mouthparts. Females have the characteristic lone star marking, which looks like a tiny white dot, in the center of their backs. Males have some tan mottling rather than a dot. 

Lone star ticks don’t carry Lyme disease, but they are aggressive feeders and frequently bite humans. They carry tularemia, human monocytic ehrlichiosis, and other diseases.

Where Do Ticks Live in Tennessee?

Ticks in Tennessee live anywhere there are open grasslands or meadows, shrublands, or forests. They prefer dense underbrush, tall grass, or the leaf litter of the forest floor. Brown dog ticks, however, live indoors, in homes with dogs, veterinary offices, and kennels.

How to Avoid Ticks in Tennessee

seed tick
Light-colored clothing works best when traveling in tick country. Their dark bodies stand out against the light fabric.

Steve Heap/Shutterstock.com

The first step in avoiding ticks in Tennessee is to be aware of the season. Ticks are most prevalent in the spring and summer months. If you’re planning on going outdoors this summer in Tennessee, be sure to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Ticks can’t bite through clothing, and they can’t run or jump, so stay out of underbrush and tall grass. If you’re hiking or camping with your canine companion, be sure to treat them with flea and tick preventative medicine beforehand.

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