No matter where you go in the world, it’s pretty hard to get away from ticks (cockroaches too). They live on all seven continents and in all fifty states in the U.S. There are over ten species of ticks in Vermont alone. Here, we’ll look at the six most common species of ticks in Vermont, the ones that might actually latch onto a human.
Ticks aren’t insects; they’re actually arachnids, like scorpions, spiders, and mites. And they don’t even eat other insects. They’re known as obligate hematophages, which means that they only drink blood, like leeches.
1. Groundhog Tick
So named for their favorite source of blood, groundhog ticks in Vermont are red-brown with large mouthparts. They’re very similar in appearance to deer ticks, but unlike deer ticks, groundhog ticks do not carry Lyme disease. These ticks feed primarily off woodchucks, weasels, porcupines, skunks, foxes, raccoons, and badgers. They rarely bite humans but may bite dogs.
But, groundhog ticks often prey on birds, particularly robins. Interestingly, neither groundhog ticks, nor any other species of tick, feeds on possums. This is because possums are incredibly clean animals and eat the ticks before they have a chance to embed themselves.
2. American Dog Tick
American dog ticks in Vermont may not carry Lyme disease, but they are the main vector for Rocky Mountain spotted fever. They’re some of the largest ticks in the United States and live along the entire eastern side of the country. Also known as wood ticks, females are readily identifiable by the tan shields over their shoulders. Males have mottled tan and brown abdomens. American dog ticks are most active in the spring and summer, and often bite humans.
3. Squirrel Tick
Like groundhog ticks, squirrel ticks in Vermont are named for their favorite food source: the squirrel. They also feed on rats, mice, raccoons, and foxes. They rarely bite humans and are not known to transmit any diseases to people. However, they carry the Powassan virus. These ticks are very light brown in color, and females have large mouthparts. Squirrel ticks often live in rodent nests, or in outdoor buildings like barns and sheds.
4. Deer Tick
Deer ticks are the most worrisome of all the ticks in Vermont, but only if they’re female. Adult male deer ticks don’t actually feed, so they can’t transmit Lyme disease. Females, however, feed on Lyme disease-carrying mice and in turn, pass the Lyme disease onto their other hosts, like humans. Female deer ticks have mahogany brown bodies with black scuta (the hard shields over the shoulders) and black legs. No other tick in Vermont has black legs, so the deer tick should be easy to identify.
5. Lone Star Tick
Lone star ticks don’t just live in the lone star state, they’re also some of the most common ticks in Vermont. Female lone star ticks are easy to identify by the single white dot in the center of their back. These ticks have large mouthparts that can lead to infections in bites to humans. Lone star ticks don’t carry Lyme disease, but they are the primary vector for human monocytic ehrlichiosis.
6. Brown Dog Tick
Brown dog ticks don’t live outside. That’s right, you can’t even get away from ticks in your own home if you have dogs. These ticks in Vermont live mainly in private residences with dogs, kennels, or veterinary practices. They don’t carry Lyme disease, but they can spread dog-specific diseases to your canine companion. Brown dog ticks have narrow, brown bodies and small mouthparts. These ticks are most commonly found on dogs’ ears, bellies, or other less-furry areas. They also occasionally bite humans.
Do Ticks in have Lyme Disease?
The only ticks in Vermont that carry Lyme disease are deer ticks. Not all deer ticks carry Lyme disease, but if you suspect you’ve been bitten by one, you should contact your doctor right away. You can kill it using rubbing alcohol, then mail it to a tick testing lab to find out whether or not it carried Lyme disease when it bit you.
How to Avoid Ticks in Vermont
Ticks in Vermont are particularly common in open fields, shrublands, and forested areas, especially along trails. Avoiding them starts before you ever leave the house. First, wear clothes that cover up as much of your skin as possible. Then, you can spray your clothing, and even your shoes, with insect repellent. Just be careful not to get any on your skin.
Once you’re out and about, avoid areas with thick underbrush, and don’t dig around in the leaf litter on the forest floor. Ticks can’t jump, so you have to come to them. The easiest way to avoid a tick bite is to stay away from foliage that brushes against your skin or clothing.
Finally, always perform a self-check for ticks after any outdoor activity. Pay close attention to anything that looks like a freckle, as larval and nymph-aged ticks are no larger than freckles. In fact, many ticks are so small that you might not even notice if you’ve been bitten.