Engorged Deer Tick

2011 January 1

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.

And this is the response that we got back within about a week (PDF file).

Short summary:
(a) Yes, it is a Deer Tick, Ixodes scapularis [1]
(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 [2].

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[3]. 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[4]. 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 [5] 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).

————–
[1] 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.

[2] 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).

[3] 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).

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

25 Responses leave one →
  1. January 1, 2011

    Holy Toledo, what a brute! What does she do while that engorged? It’s not like she can move or anything.

  2. January 3, 2011

    Rather surprisingly, they can still move when they are like this. The two others we found, we kept in a jar for a while, and they were able to slowly crawl around in it. Granted, they don’t move fast, but they are at least able to take cover.

    I understand that mostly what they do is lay around waiting for a male to come by, and then after mating they lay a few thousand eggs.

  3. Margaret B. permalink
    January 5, 2011

    Good heavens! I’ve never had any luck with petroleum jelly or matches, although luckily I didn’t set myself afire either. Don’t think I have any tick-ready tweezers. Luckily, I am not usually feasted upon — the one exception being when we brough a dozen or so seed ticks home from Louisiana.

  4. January 5, 2011

    While tweezers are best, you can use your fingernails in a pinch (ha, ha!)

    The key thing is to avoid squeezing the body, and to get them off before they manage to drill down to the blood supply.

  5. January 6, 2011

    Ycccch. This might be my favorite post ever, although you missed extra credit points by neglecting to give it the headline Jabba the Tick.

  6. January 7, 2011

    How long does it take for them to digest this mass?

  7. January 7, 2011

    According to Texas Ticks 101, it takes her about 3 to 10 days. The ones that we saved didn’t lay eggs even after two weeks, probably because they hadn’t mated.

  8. Della3 permalink
    January 23, 2011

    Hah! This reminds me of a family hiking/climbing expedition when I was about 9 years old. In the middle of the week I finally got up the nerve to give myself a sponge bath in the cold mountain air while my family went off fishing. When I took off my pants I discovered a fully engorged tick halfway between my foot and my kneecap. I panicked. I certainly had never been told what to do if you encounter a tick on yourself, so I first tried to smash it. Luckily, it had the hide of a new off-road tire. Next, I tried scraping it. No good. Finally, I took my soapy washcloth and rubbed frantically, and this finally made it let go. Was it more exasperated by the soap, or by my constant bruising assault? I’ll never know. Luckily, I didn’t have any side affects from the encounter. Soo…. everyone, talk to your kids about ticks before they go out hiking. Equipping them with a small swiss army knife that includes tweezers would be helpful.

  9. February 2, 2011

    After all these years of intimacy, pulling them off dogs, cats, and people, I still don’t love ‘em.

  10. April 2, 2011

    We had a vet friend turn us on to a little plastic thingy called the Tick Twister. its awesome. its got this curved v-shaped slot to slip around the head right at the skin level and with a little turn and gentle pull it is eventually obliged to let go. works liek a charm! of course we found a dead engorged deer tick laying on the floor 1 day after a good treatment of Frontline too. I just wish we could use that stuff on our kids!

  11. April 4, 2011

    TJ: Ah, here they are:

    http://www.ticktwister.com/

    It looks like they cost around $3 – $4. The only downside might be making sure that you can quickly lay hands on one when you get a tick. They do have at least one model that can be put on a keyring, though.

  12. April 15, 2011

    Greetings from Kingston Ontario Canada,
    Awesome pics! I am a Lyme Warrior, with a few other tick born parasites floating around in my blood.
    Could I use your pics for educational puposes?

    Please do not use tweezers on these ” bad girls”, I have seen way to many botched tweezer, quasi removals. When you squeeze the tick in any way, it perhaps injects the contents of its gut which carries the Lyme bacteria and other co infections.
    The internet is full of “take the tick out with tweezers”
    I’m with Tim, and several Vets I have talked to in the area, PLEASE use a tick twister or a tick key. http://www.tickkey.com
    These tools will remove the tick without injecting anything into you or your dog, and will get the whole tick out, quickly and safely.
    And you are all welcome to check out my website http://www.lymezone.info

    I like the tick key because it fits nicely on my key chain. Check out tickkey.com

    I bought 700 (tick keys) of them when I was manic, bipolar disease is something that manifests with Lyme Disease, along with Bell’s Palsy, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and early onset Alzheimer’s. Let’s just say I am married to a Saint.

    Also if you live in Canada or a bunch of the States in the US, they will not treat you for Lyme past 1 month or two. This means you are doomed to NEVER getting any better.
    Some States are now allowing doctors to become Lyme Literate, and use the International protocol on this disease and coinfections, and people are getting better…like me, as I have a doctor in the US and travel to see her every 3 months.

    Stay Safe!

    Keep on taking photos, they rock!

    Lyme Warrior Wendy

  13. Beca permalink
    May 12, 2011

    Thank you so much for this post. I found my dog playing with the Big Momma this morning. From a distance it looked like a pinto bean, as I got closer I saw it moving and I flipped out. It was the first time I had seen a tick that size. I put it in a container and plan to show it to the vet. Who knew ticks came in different shapes and sizes!
    Thanks Again,
    The Tick-a-nator!

  14. May 12, 2011

    Beca: You’re welcome. It’s a good thing that you picked it up. Otherwise, it probably would have laid a few thousand eggs in a few days, possibly leading to a really big infestation next spring!

  15. min permalink
    June 30, 2011

    its soooooooo grooooosss!! i wanted to kill this thing right now!! it makes me kind of itchy

  16. Dana permalink
    October 21, 2011

    So if I found a fat engorged tick on my kids bedroom floor that was dead most likely this fell off of my dog and because it didn’t mate soon after it died. Do I still need to be worried about eggs being laid somwhere?

  17. October 21, 2011

    Dana: After they lay eggs, they look kind of deflated, and I don’t think they move away from the eggs after they are laid. So if it had laid eggs, I think you would have found them. And in any case, houses are kind of dry compared to the grass where the eggs are supposed to be laid, so I’d expect them to dry up and die rather than hatching. So no, I don’t think you need to worry about eggs hatching in the house.

  18. samantha ferreira permalink
    August 1, 2012

    hi, I just wanted to ask a question. I found an engorged tick on the ear of my brothers 7 month old german sheppard. I asked for an appointment for the vet so she can take it off and check to see if there was any disease transmitted. Does anyone know the cost of what it will be to take out the tick and as well as checking for lyme disease?

  19. August 1, 2012

    Samantha:

    I have no idea what a vet would charge to remove the tick, because we always remove them ourselves with a pair of tweezers. As far as testing the tick for disease, the Michigan Department of Agriculture does it for $40 (although they will do it for free if the tick was on a person and not a pet).

  20. peyton permalink
    November 3, 2012

    i just found one on my dog while reading this -.-

  21. Helena permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Hi everybody!
    We live in south Florida and this year we got infested with fleas and now ticks! For past almost 2 months I’m picking hundreds of ticks off my dogs.
    Dogs are medicated and yard is sprayed but it’s not working.
    At night before we go to bed I spend about an hour and go through the hair to look for them. Many are not attached yet, some are engorged more or less. And they do engorge rather quick too! Matter of couple of hours!.I pick them with my fingers and nails. Kind of became expert at this by now. The worse is between the toes, they bleed like hell.
    I picked anywhere around 50 a night/dog. During the day I check them quick too so there are always some. Mainly males.
    They get inside the ears etc. On my GS it’s easy to see but my black lab is more difficult.My GS is so smart, she points with her nose on spots where she can’t reach to tell me! And she hates the smell of them. Makes her gag and drool. It is funny to see her making faces when she smell the fat ones!
    I have animals all my life but this is first time we got ticks here.
    It is nasty. Dogs get baths and house is cleaned, bedding washed on almost boiling temp.
    We have bamboo in the back yard and critters living there so I think this is the problem. I don’t know what to do anymore.
    Other than call for proffesional help.
    Any advice?

  22. Fred permalink
    November 8, 2012

    Here in Tennessee we have a cornucopia of ticks. The idea of keeping the ticks in a a sealed air tight bottle appeals to my sense of justice. The little suckers must pay for their crime. After they have served their sentence (i.e. you find they didn’t infect you) you can still torture them or subject them to whatever malicious experiments you have been able to dream up.
    Let us know how the guinea hens work out.

    They have a relative which torture me even more, the teeny red chiggers which we have here in abundance.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trombiculidae
    After they drool on you they leave so all kinds of myths have arisen about what they even look like.

  23. November 8, 2012

    Well, now that you mention the guinea fowl, they actually did seem to reduce the tick load in our yard. The dog only picked up a few ticks all year, and the only times we got ticks on any of the humans in the household were when we went walking in the woods, where the guinea fowl don’t go. So overall, I’d say they are a success.

    They sure are noisy birds, though.

  24. Lucy permalink
    June 1, 2013

    I found a blood-engorged tick on the living room floor this morning. It was about 1/4 inch in diameter. So its size was between that of a deer tick and a wood tick as you’ve described above – a raisin versus a grape. So I’m wondering which it was. What do you think? I DIDN’T pay any attention to the color of its head, which was actually almost submerged into the surface of its body, since the body was so full. (It didn’t even have any wrinkles on the body, as seen in your photos above. It was perfectly smooth, and at first I thought it might be one of my husband’s pills; then I thought maybe it was one of my seed beans – until I saw the little feet wiggling out of what looked like a hole in the end.)
    So do you have an opinion on whether a 1/4-inch diameter engorged tick is a wood tick or a deer tick? After cutting it open in a bowl with a knife, I put it down the garbage disposal, so now I can’t send it to the County Extension! My first instinct was to gaaaaaah! kill it. I hope there’s not a next time.

  25. Amy permalink
    September 29, 2013

    Thank you for this, my son just found one in his bed and I’m pretty sure it bit him. I’ll be calling the doctor tomorrow!!

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