Engorged Deer Tick
In the past, our tick season had almost exclusively been April-June, with the primary tick species being the Wood Tick, Dermacentor variabilis. But then, on October 30 of 2010, Sandy was petting the dog and found this:
“This” being a blood-engorged female tick. It was about the size of a raisin, which was actually a bit smaller than the occasional engorged wood ticks that we have seen (they get almost as big as grapes).
We had our suspicions that this was not our familiar wood tick (the chelicerae were more elongated, and the legs and scutum (the shield-like structure behind the head) were black instead of reddish-brown).
(I suppose some of you might be saying right now, “Why do you keep showing more and more pictures of that horrible thing? Are you trying to gross us out?” What a question. Of course I am!)
Since ticks carry some pretty serious diseases, and different ticks carry different diseases, a tick ID is the sort of thing one wants to be sure of. It’s best to have it confirmed by experts. So, we filled out the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Tick Identification and Testing Form, packaged the tick in a sealed bottle with a slightly moist paper towel as per instructions, and shipped it for testing along with the requested testing fee.
(a) Yes, it is a Deer Tick, Ixodes scapularis 
(b) It arrived alive and hydrated, and could therefore be tested for disease.
(c) It was not a carrier of either Lyme disease (Yay!) or Anaplasma, but evidently was a Babesia carrier .
Well, cripes. There goes the neighborhood. These are the ones that are particularly likely to transmit diseases to humans (particularly Lyme disease), and so they are much more worrisome than the wood ticks. Actually, it turns out that they’ve been around our house since at least 2007, because the engorged female tick that I posted on the Wood Tick page back then was actually a Deer Tick, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
So, given that we have pictures of engorged female deer ticks collected both in the spring, and in the late fall, it’s pretty clear that they occur at both times. In fact, after catching this one and sending it out for analysis, we found two more on the dog in the following two weeks. This is after a pretty low-tick spring, and a practically tickless summer, so they obviously have a specific season in the fall around here.
As for getting rid of them, well, Guinea fowl are reputed to be good at eating and clearing out ticks, so we got a couple from a friend to try out this spring. Sandy built a nice coop for them and everything. If they do the job, great. And if they don’t, well, Guinea fowl are supposed to be pretty tasty themselves, and the coop can be used for chickens just as well, so it’s not like it will be a dead loss.
And, now is probably as good of a time as any to reiterate:
The Recommended  Way to Remove Ticks (as per the Centers for Disease Control):
1. Get a pair of fine-tipped tweezers.
2. Grab the tick’s head with the tweezers, as close to the victim’s skin as possible, and try to come in from the side to avoid squeezing the body, as shown in the figure.
3. Pull up with gradually increasing force until the little bugger comes off. It may pull a small piece of skin along with it, or possibly leave some of its mouthparts embedded in the skin. Either way, don’t be alarmed.
4. Disinfect the wound with any good antiseptic.
5. Optional: Put the tick in a small bottle to save in case it needs to be analyzed. Put a small piece of paper towel moistened with a single drop of water, or a blade of green grass, to keep the tick from getting dehydrated. And don’t punch any air holes in the lid.
6. If there is any sign of infection over the next few days, in particular a “bulls-eye” rash (a red circle surrounding the bite site), see a doctor. Take the tick with you, if you have it. And if you’re in Michigan, bring along a printout of the Tick Identification and Testing Form, just in case the doctor doesn’t have one or doesn’t already have a lab lined up for testing it.
This procedure minimizes the chances of either leaving bits of the tick embedded in the skin, or of making it regurgitate potentially infected blood back into the victim. Fooling around with matches, or petroleum jelly, or gasoline, or any of that stuff you may have heard about is likely to poison you/set you on fire/make the tick vomit back under your skin/leave tick bits embedded in you, and probably won’t even make it let go in the first place. And even though your every instinct cries out to smash the ghastly thing, saving it properly in a vial will make it a lot easier to have it tested to see whether it gave you a disease (and if so, which one).
 Over a lot of the country, these ticks were formerly named Ixodes dammini, which as near as I can figure is basically Latin for “Damned Tick”. A very, very apt name that I’m sure pretty much everybody can get behind 100%. Unfortunately, as of 1993 it was shown that I. dammini was identical to I. scapularis, which had been named first and therefore had naming precedence. So, the arguably better name was set aside in favor of the older one. Very sad. And very much what happened to poor Brontosaurus, which turned out to be identical to the earlier-named Apatosaurus (something that had not been noticed earlier due to some injudicious head-swapping). So Apatosaurus (“Deceptive Lizard”) got precedence as the name in spite of Brontosaurus (“Thunder Lizard”) being in comparison much more wonderful.
 Lyme disease is the one that everybody hears about, but Anaplasmosis has very similar symptoms and sounds nearly as bad, while Babesiosis is kind of similar to Malaria (although generally not as serious, and mainly a problem only for immune-system-compromised people).
 Not that the wood ticks are harmless; according to the brochure Tick Borne Illnesses in Michigan (PDF), they can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, and the same Anaplasmosis that the Deer Ticks can carry (this is also called Ehrlichiosis. Taxonomy trouble again).
 In fact, on May 24, 2011, Sandy found yet another engorged deer tick on the poor dog. Since posting this, I have read that the prime season for deer ticks is in the fall. But, if they don’t manage to latch onto a host then, they will hibernate through the winter and have another try in the spring, until the unsuccessful ones finally die of starvation sometime in early summer.
 There are specialized tools for removing ticks, like the Tick Twister and the Tick Key, that are reported to be easier to use safely than the tweezers. Using these requires planning ahead, though: if you don’t already have one in hand before you get the tick, you aren’t going to be able to acquire one quickly, and you really don’t want to leave the tick on any longer than necessary. Most people own a pair of pointed tweezers, though, or at least can quickly find someone who does. But, if one is expecting to be hiking in tick-infested areas, it might be a good idea to get one of the specialized tools first.