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Black-legged or deer tick

By: Garden Gate staff
Not all garden pests are found on plants. Some are actually on the gardener! Unfortunately, this pest is hard to spot.

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Black-legged or deer tick Ixodes scapularis

IDENTIFICATION — Not all garden pests are found on plants. Some are actually on the gardener! Unfortunately, this pest is hard to spot. The black-legged tick (or deer tick), the main culprit in infecting humans with Lyme disease, is tiny. Brick-red adult females are about 3/25 in. long, and the black males are a little smaller. After feeding, females can be two to three times that size. During the immature nymph stage, they’re only about the size of the head of a pin and translucent with a gray tinge. This is the phase during which they’re most likely to attach to humans or pets and transmit disease.

Only 1 to 5 percent of black-legged ticks carry Lyme disease, most commonly in Canada and the northern United States.

CONTROL — The best control for black-legged ticks is to avoid them. They’re found in wooded areas or tall grass, so stay on paths and keep your lawn mowed. Keep pets in mowed areas, as they can bring ticks indoors or be infected with Lyme disease themselves. Mowing grass short raises the temperature and lowers humidity at ground level, which causes ticks to dehydrate and die.

Wearing long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and long pants helps keep ticks away and also makes it easier to see any that might have made it onto you. Tuck your pants into your socks to keep the little critters from crawling up your legs. Repellents with deet also keep ticks at bay.

After coming indoors from brushy areas, check for ticks, especially in your hair and around your waist and inner thighs. They need to be attached for a couple of hours to transmit disease, so removing them promptly is important. It’s best to use tweezers. Grasp the tick’s head and body and pull carefully.

For more information on Lyme disease, go to the American Lyme Disease Foundation Web site at www.aldf.com or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/lyme/.

Published: July 20, 2010
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