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It may be December in the Northeastern US, but blacklegged ticks (also called deer ticks) are still active! It was only 37 degrees F (3 degrees C), and yet I encountered 2 ticks while hiking - one female (not pictured) and one male. Male blacklegged ticks have a long, dark scutum that covers most of their dorsal surface and 8 legs. This tick was very sluggish, but still curious. Male ticks do not feed, so I assume this tick was just out getting some exercise, or else seeking a female.
Most people think that the risk of getting bitten by a tick declines during late autumn/early winter, especially once there's a frost. But, that isn't true for blacklegged ticks because they neither die nor do they enter diapause when the weather turns cold. They are not killed by freezing temperatures! Adult blacklegged ticks can remain active from fall until spring as long as the temperature is above freezing. However, they are most likely to be active when the ground is thawed AND the temperatures are above freezing.
Crawling up my leg in a deciduous forest with thick leaf litter.
The lifecycle of blacklegged ticks generally lasts two years. During this time, they go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and eight-legged adult. They are three-host ticks, which means that they must have one bloodmeal during each life stage (larva, nymph, adult) in order to survive. In addition, blacklegged ticks are the main vector of Lyme disease in North America. They can also transmit other diseases such as Babesiosis, Powassan, and Anaplasmosis. However, males do not feed and therefore don't transmit disease.
To see what a female blacklegged (deer) tick looks like, refer to this spotting: http://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/777...