Engorged Wood Ticks

2013 March 27

A while back, we acquired some guinea fowl, which we let run around the yard to eat ticks[1]. It actually seems to be working, the tick levels in our yard are way down. But not zero, as can be seen from these Wood Ticks, Dermacentor variabilis (also known as American Dog Ticks) that Sandy picked off of our poor old dog on June 3, 2012

This one was only half-inflated, but still pretty good sized (and already bigger than the Deer Ticks get). The main differences between the wood ticks and the deer ticks are that the wood ticks are about twice as big, and have shorter, redder mouthparts.

Here’s the underside, where you can see the opening that she would have used to lay eggs if we hadn’t killed her.

It takes quite a long time (maybe a day or more) for them to get even that engorged. More often, they get found and picked off when they are more like this:

She’d only gotten enough blood to stretch out the wrinkles in her abdomen, and not quite enough to seriously start bloating.

These were both females. The males look a bit different, they don’t have the kind of shield structure behind the head, and their abdomens are hard and non-expandable with a distinct pattern of markings on them. Here’s a picture of a male that I took way back in 2007 with my original camera, but that I think still compares favorably to the pictures I’m taking these days:

In our experience, it takes wood ticks the better part of a day to decide on a spot to bite, and then several hours after that to drill down to the blood supply. So we have a “tick check” every evening during tick season, particularly of anyone who left the yard and went into the woods where the tick population is still as high as ever. This has kept any of the humans from actually getting bitten. Unfortunately, our elderly dog[2] had developed a lot of moles and growths on her skin that were just about the same size and shape as attached ticks, so it took some care to be able to tell the growths from the parasites.

I’ve already covered how to remove ticks, and if desired how to have them identified and tested for disease, on the Deer Ticks page, so I won’t go over it all again here. Except to say that:

– Pulling it off with a tick-removal tool like the tick twister or tick key is best (but requires planning ahead);
-Pointed tweezers are fine if that’s what you’ve got, as long as you grab it by the head and avoid squeezing the body;
-Fingernails will do in a pinch[3];and
-Any weird and exotic methods you’ve heard that involve hot objects, chemicals, or both are universally Bad Ideas that are more likely to set you on fire/give you a nasty chemical burn/make the tick vomit blood back under your skin than to actually get the tick off. So put them out of your mind right now.

[1] Guinea fowl also make a heck of a lot of noise, a kind of trumpeting two-tone “Buk-KACK!” that they will launch into for minutes at a time under only slight provocation. Luckily we only have a couple of neighbors who live close enough to hear them. Some of our more distant neighbors ask about those “funny chickens” that we have running around the yard. The guinea fowl also used to run across the road[4] all the time, until the one that was apparently the ringleader got herself hit by a car (I saw it happen, and so was able to collect and clean the body immediately, before anything could happen to it that might make it inedible. It made a very good stew). The survivors stayed home a lot better after that.

[2] The dog (a beagle) was 16 years old at the time, was moving pretty slow because of her arthritis, and was nearly blind and mostly deaf. She was in general decline for most of the last two years, and finally died on December 15 2012. It’s possible that she simply wasn’t picking up as many ticks as she used to because she no longer went crashing through the underbrush chasing rabbits. But the number of ticks on the humans in the household is also way down, so I think there really are fewer ticks in the yard now.

[3] OK, I can’t resist a bad pun any more than anyone else can.

[4] “I dream of living in a society where a chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned!”

7 Responses
  1. Rachel permalink
    March 27, 2013

    At least in this study, Guinea fowl were counter productive for tick control. I’m not sure what has been found domestically though.

  2. Lon permalink
    March 27, 2013

    If you’re a tick-magnet, like I am, it doesn’t take going out into the woods, or even the tall prairie-ish growth, to have a tick hitch a ride. A couple years ago I found one crawling up my leg after filling my birdfeeders at work – which are in the mown grass. Shortly after that several co-workers scoffed when a tick/lyme disease informational poster went up in the lunch room, until I pointed out that yes, we do have ticks in the park. A couple days later I found one in the lunch room and *really* rubbed it in.

    (I work in an office building in a state park in the greater Chicago suburban area, and our lunch room has its own door to a covered patio with a picnic table, which is used fairly regularly in nice weather. In fairness, the tick was within a foot of the door).

  3. Carole permalink
    March 27, 2013

    Well done!

  4. March 28, 2013

    Rachael: I’m not 100% convinced that the guinea fowl are responsible for the drop in the tick population in our yard (it may be random fluctuations). As to whether they actually spread the ticks, I suppose I’d better keep an eye on them to see if they pick any up. Maybe I can remotely check them with binoculars during tick season, so I don’t have to actually capture them. I don’t know whether wood ticks are particularly keen to bite birds, or if they are more mammal specialists.

    Lon: Yes, they certainly get around. They frequently get into the house by riding on clothing. I probably won’t be posting any more engorged ones for a while, seeing as how we don’t have a dog anymore, but maybe I can find some hanging out on a blade of grass this spring with their legs out, questing for victims.

    Carole: Thanks!

  5. March 28, 2013

    Female tick: Does eating all this blood make me look fat?

  6. September 3, 2015

    I am seeking permission to use one of the two photographs of engorged ticks, that appear on this page, in a film we are updating. Do you know where I could find a high-resolution version and who I need to contact for permission? Thank you! Judy

  7. September 3, 2015

    Judy: I took all the photos on this page, so I am the person to contact for permission. If you let me know which photo you are interested in, I can find the higher resolution version for you.

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