You've just returned from a long hike in the woods with your dog, and you're ready for a rest. As you start to kick off your hiking boots, you notice it: a small, reddish-brown creature crawling on your jeans. A tick! Nobody likes finding a tick, but what can you do to prevent them? Let's look at some facts about ticks.
Meet the Tick
It's easy to group ticks with ants, beetles, or other bugs, but ticks aren't insects at all. Ticks go through life cycle stages similar to insects (egg, larva, nymph, adult), but they're actually arachnids, relatives of spiders and scorpions. Unlike spiders, ticks lack body segments, but they do have eight legs during their adult stage.1
Ticks thrive in dark, cool, wooded places and feed on blood. They do this using a process called "questing." A questing tick waits with its front "arms" extended, waiting for an unsuspecting host to walk by. If the tick is successful in grabbing and climbing aboard, it may try to bite, which is a long, slow process. Ticks don't just start feeding. They take their time choosing an ideal spot, then prepare to bite. Once they bite, they can stay there for days. And as the tick bites, its body enlarges as it fills with blood.
There are many different types of ticks,2 and some are more prevalent in different regions than others. In the United States, some of the most common ticks include:
- Deer tick (also known as the blacklegged tick)
- American dog tick
- Lone Star tick
- Brown dog tick
- Gulf Coast tick
- Rocky Mountain wood tick
- Western blacklegged tick
Why Ticks Are a Problem
Ticks are creepy and much more than an ordinary nuisance. Ticks should not be tolerated, even in the backyard. They can cause several problems for humans and animals and should be dealt with quickly.
How Ticks Affect Your Pet
While ticks commonly bite wildlife, they also represent a major threat to domestic dogs and cats. Pets are low to the ground, they like to romp and explore in tall grass, leaves, and brush where ticks hide, and they are covered with fur that is ideal for ticks to hide in while they bite. It's important to prevent ticks on dogs and cats, as multiple, serious health issues can result from tick bites. Besides potentially spreading multiple tick-borne diseases, a tick's body may swell up considerably with blood, creating an itchy and uncomfortable spot on your pet. Without careful removal, a tick's head might be left behind where it could cause an infection. And the bite itself may remain red, itchy, or painful for some time.
How Ticks Affect Your Home
Ticks don't cause damage to a house the way carpenter ants or termites might. They're solely seeking a host, not a home. Ticks don't usually live indoors long term (thankfully). It's more common to find stray ticks indoors that have dropped off pets or clothing. Tick bites on humans can cause pain and itching and many mild to serious health issues.
How Ticks Affect Your Yard
Ticks don't cause physical damage to a lawn the way some ants or crickets do. When you gather with friends for a backyard barbecue, you don't want to be worrying about ticks and their associated potential health issues. The same goes for doing yard work, gardening, or just hanging out on the lawn—nobody wants to pick up a tick while having fun.
How to Get Rid of Ticks
- Mow the lawn. Tall grass and weedy areas are great places for ticks to hang out.3 Keep your lawn tidy and trimmed to help minimize those hiding places.
- Minimize available habitat. Ticks like wood and brush piles, so keep your yard free of debris to reduce their available habitat. You might consider eliminating thick ornamental landscaping near your home's foundation.
- Keep deer (and other critters) away. Deer are frequent carriers of ticks, and if deer spend time in your yard and around your home, they could bring ticks right to your doorstep.
- Showcase the sunshine. Ticks don't like the sun, so bring more sunlight into your yard by removing branches or trees to help discourage ticks.
- Rake the leaves. Raking isn't a fun job, but removing leaf debris can help reduce the number of ticks in your yard.
- Treat your yard. To eliminate ticks on a lawn or other outdoor space, try applying a tick spray product like Adams Plus Yard Spray, which kills ticks in the yard for up to a month.
- Create a barrier. A perimeter of wood chips or gravel around your yard can separate it from wooded regions where ticks hide. Ticks prefer to travel on plant material, and the wood chips present them with an unpleasant texture, which may discourage ticks from crossing.
- Check your pet. Frequently check your pet for ticks, especially if you've been outdoors hiking or camping.
- Treat your pet. For dogs and cats, you have plenty of options to keep them tick-free. Prevent ticks on a dog with a spot-on product like Adams Plus Flea & Tick Prevention Spot On for Dogs or on a cat with Adams Plus Flea & Tick Spot On for Cats. You can also use tick collars, pyrethrin dips, tick shampoos, and tick sprays for dogs and cats.
- Vacuum the house. You might consider vacuuming more frequently during the height of tick season, as this will help remove any ticks loose in your home. Be sure to empty the vacuum in a trash can outside the house when finished to prevent the ticks from returning to your home.
- Wear protective clothing. If you plan on hiking or spending time in an area that you suspect ticks may frequent, try dressing for the occasion. Light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants should help keep ticks off your body and make ticks easy to spot.4 Insect repellents are another option.
Ticks can be quite a problem in certain regions and also a health concern, but luckily you can combat them with a combination of tools and techniques.
1. Hahn, Jeffrey. University of Minnesota Extension. "Ticks," 2019. https://extension.umn.edu/yard-and-garden-insects/ticks
2. Tick Encounter. The University of Rhode Island. "Tick Identification." https://tickencounter.org/tick_identification/tickid_nonflash
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Preventing Ticks in the Yard," 22 February 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/prev/in_the_yard.html
4. Cranshaw, W.S., F.B. Peairs, and B.C. Kondratieff. Colorado State University Extension. "Colorado Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases," February 2019. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/colorado-ticks-and-tick-borne-diseases-5-593/