Types of Ticks: What do Ticks Look Like?


Knowing the types of ticks and what ticks look like can help you to know your risk of Lyme and other diseases — and whether you need urgent medical care.

All ticks are blood-sucking parasites that attach to humans, pets, livestock, and wild animals. When feeding on their host, a tick can transmit diseases that can become life-threatening when left untreated.

Types of Ticks

There are many types of ticks throughout the world, and they are found in particular regions. It’s important to be able identify ticks so you know whether to seek medical attention, how to remove ticks, and how to get rid of ticks where you live.

1. American dog tick (Dermacentor Variabilis)

Female American Dog Tick
Image Credit: K-State Research and Extension, CC BY 2.0

The American dog tick, also known as a wood tick, has a reddish-brown body.

Females have a grayish-white dorsal shield (the scutum) located right behind their feeding parts. The male scutum covers the majority of the tick’s surface. Females are typically 5 mm long when unfed, and males are about 3.6 mm long.

The American dog tick is most commonly attached to dogs but can attack large animals, including cows, horses, and humans.

Region: The American dog tick is most commonly found east of the Rocky Mountains and in limited areas on the Pacific Coast.

Diseases: The American dog tick carries Rickettsia rickettsii (Rocky Mountain spotted fever), Francisella tularensis (tularemia), Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, and canine tick paralysis.

Danger: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and canine tick paralysis can become life-threatening.

2. Blacklegged ‘deer’ tick (Ixodes Scapularis)

Blacklegged "Deer" Tick
Image Credit: Fairfax County, CC BY-ND 2.0

The blacklegged “deer” tick has a reddish-orange body, black shield, and black legs. The Lyme Disease Association compares the adult tick to the size of a sesame seed, and the nymph to the size of a poppyseed.

Region: Deer ticks are found all across the U.S.

Diseases: Deer ticks can transmit many diseases to humans, including Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii (Lyme disease), Borrelia miyamotoi and Borrelia hermsii (relapsing fever Borreliosis), Ehrlichia muris (ehrlichiosis), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (anaplasmosis), Babesia microti (babesiosis), Powassan virus, and multiple species of Rickettsia.

Danger: Lyme disease and all the other pathogens deer ticks can transmit to humans can be deadly. The most significant risk to a deer tick bite is in the spring, summer, and fall. But deer ticks can still attack during the winter when temperatures are above freezing.

3. Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus Sanguineus)

Image Credit: Public Domain. By: CDC/ James Gathany; William Nicholson, Source: Public Health Image Library

The brown dog tick is narrow in shape compared to others and is reddish-brown. The brown dog tick’s primary hosts are dogs, to which it can transfer many diseases, but this tick also can bite humans and other animals.

Region: This tick is active worldwide.

Diseases: The Brown Dog Tick can transmit RMSF, Q Fever, and other rickettsioses to humans.

Danger: Q Fever and RMSF may lead to life-threatening complications.

4. Groundhog tick (Ixodes Cookei)

The groundhog tick, also known as woodchuck tick, is light brown or yellow. This tick feeds on warm-blooded animals, including groundhogs, skunks, squirrels, and foxes. This tick will sometimes bite humans and domestic animals.

Region: This tick can be found throughout the eastern U.S.

Diseases: The groundhog tick is the primary carrier for Powassan virus disease.

Danger: Powassan virus can become life-threatening, and people who survive usually have long-term health problems.

5. Gulf coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum)

Gulf Coast Tick
Image Credit: Public Domain. CDC/ Dr. Christopher Paddock, Source: Public Health Image Library

Gulf Coast ticks are 6-mm in length and are easily confused with the American dog tick.

Females have a reduced, dark brown scutum. The male scutum covers the majority of its surface, is dark brown, and features interconnected silvery white lines.

Larvae and nymphs feed on birds and small rodents, while adult ticks feed on larger wildlife, including deer, dogs, panthers, bears, and humans.

Region: The Gulf Coast Tick is found in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic, as well as in southern Arizona.

Diseases: R. parkeri rickettsiosis, a type of spotted fever.

Danger: R. parkeri rickettsiosis is usually less severe than RMSF but can be life-threatening.

6. Lone star tick (Amblyomma Americanum)

Lone Star Tick
Image Credit: Public Domain. James Gathany
Content Providers(s): CDC/ Michael L. Levin, Ph. D.

The lone star tick is reddish-brown. The adult female has a white dot or “lone star” on her back.

The lone star tick is most active in early spring through late fall.

Region: This tick is found in the Eastern U.S. but is more common in the South. (Texas, as you know, is known as the Lone Star state.)

Diseases: The nymphs and adult ticks can transmit Human monocytotropic ehrlichiosis (HME), Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii (which cause ehrlichiosis), Rickettsiosis, RMSF, Francisella tularensis (causes Tularemia), Heartland virus, Bourbon virus, Q fever, tick paralysis, and Borrelia lonestari, known as Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI).

Danger: Lone Star Ticks are aggressive biters, will attach to humans, and can pass pathogens that may become life-threatening.

7. Pacific coast tick (Dermacentor Occidentalis)

Image Credit: Shutterstock

The Pacific Coast tick has a dappled brownish-black color. This tick’s wound is commonly mistaken for the bites of other insects and spiders.

Region: The Pacific Coast tick thrives in the Southwestern U.S. and on the West Coast, ranging from Baja Mexico into Oregon.

Diseases: This tick can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever to humans and pets. It can also transmit Colorado tick fever virus (CTFV), Pacific Coast tick fever (spotted fever Rickettsia 364D), Q fever, Rickettsia philippi (a spotted fever rickettsiosis), and tularemia.

Danger: CTFV, Spotted fevers, Q fever, and tularemia can all become life-threatening.

8. Rocky mountain wood tick (Dermacentor Andersoni)

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
Image Credit: Public Domain. CDC/ Dr. Christopher Paddock. Source: Public Health Image Library

The Rocky Mountain wood tick is another reddish-brown tick that looks very similar to American dog ticks. The adults have a cream-colored scutum.

Adult ticks feed on large mammals, including humans. Larvae and nymphs feed on small rodents.

Adult Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks can be active from January through November but are most aggressive in late spring and early summer.

Region: Rocky Mountain Wood Ticks are common at elevations of 4,000 to 10,500 feet in the Rocky Mountain states and southwestern Canada.

Diseases: Transmits RMSF, CTVF, Q Fever, and tularemia. The Rocky Mountain wood tick can occasionally cause tick paralysis in humans and pets.

Danger: The Rocky Mountain wood tick can occasionally cause tick paralysis in humans and pets. All of the diseases transmitted by the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick may become life-threatening.

9. Soft ticks (Ornithodoros)

Soft tick
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Soft ticks do not have a hard shell. They have the shape of a large raisin.

Soft ticks usually bite humans in rustic cabins when humans are asleep. A person may be unaware of a soft tick bite.

Region: These ticks are a danger in the western half of the U.S.

Disease: Borrelia hermsii and B. turicatae (tick-borne relapsing fever).

Danger: TBRF may become fatal if left untreated.

10. Western blacklegged tick (Ixodes Pacificus)

Western Blacklegged Tick
Image Credit: Public Domain. CDC/ Dr. Amanda Loftis, Dr. William Nicholson, Dr. Will Reeves, Dr. Chris Paddock. Source: Public Health Image Library.

The Western blacklegged tick has a reddish body, a black shield, and black legs.

Nymphs and adult females are the primary cause of pathogen transmissions to humans.

Region: The Western blacklegged tick is common in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

Disease: This tick transmits Lyme disease, Borrelia miyamotoi disease (a relapsing fever Borreliosis), babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA). It possibly transmits Bartonella to humans.

Danger: Infections and illnesses from this tick may become life-threatening.

Know Your Ticks

Proper tick identification is essential to making informed health decisions.

You also should know how to remove a tick, that you should remove a tick as soon as possible and always seek medical attention when symptoms arise. Ignoring a medical concern may lead to severe, life-threatening complications.

For peace of mind, if you have a tick infestation in your yard, call a pest control professional near you.

Main Image Credit: Kaldari, Public Domain

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.