Ticks are tiny, ugly, gross, harmful, and irritating. They belong to a group called arachnids. The same group includes spiders, scorpions, mites, and other small insects. All these insects pose a significant threat to human and animal health. Talking about ticks, in particular, they are blood-sucking parasites notorious for spreading diseases to humans, mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles. They are quite common when it comes to infesting homes in Massachusetts. 

Although tick activity is weather-dependent, there are two peaks during the year; the first begins around March/April and lasts through August, and the second occurs around October-November. In this blog, we'll take a deep dive into the world of tick infestations in Massachusetts, exploring common tick species, related risks, and useful tips to protect yourself and your furry friends.

What are the common tick species in Massachusetts?

Some of the key tick species found in the state include:

1) Black-legged Ticks

The Black-Legged Tick, scientifically known as Ixodes scapularis, is commonly referred to as the deer tick. They are most active during the warmer months in the state. This species is infamous for its role in transmitting Lyme disease, a potentially serious disease (more towards the end of the blog). Adult black-legged ticks are relatively small, about the size of a sesame seed, with dark brown to black coloring. They have eight legs, which is a characteristic feature of arachnids. Nymphs (baby ticks) are even smaller and more challenging to detect due to their tiny size, making them particularly concerning as they can transmit diseases while remaining unnoticed. They are commonly found in wooded areas, grassy fields, and areas with dense vegetation. 

2) American Dog Tick

The American Dog Tick, scientifically known as Dermacentor variabilis, is a common tick species found in various regions of North America, especially Massachusetts. Adult American Dog Ticks are relatively larger than black-legged ticks, with females measuring about 5mm in length. They have a distinctive appearance with an ornate scutum (ornate = decorated, scutum = shield), and they range from brown to reddish-brown. They are commonly found in grassy and wooded areas, including fields, meadows, and along trails. They prefer environments where mammals, such as dogs, deer, and rodents, are prevalent. American Dog Ticks are known to transmit several diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) and tularemia.

Both of these tick species are most active during the warmer months, typically from late spring through early fall. 

Common diseases caused by Black-Legged Ticks and American Dog Ticks

Black-Legged Ticks (Ixodes scapularis):
  1. Lyme Disease:

Caused by: A bacterium

Symptoms: Early symptoms may include fever, fatigue, headache, and a characteristic circular rash (bull's-eye rash). If untreated, it can lead to more severe symptoms affecting the joints, heart, and nervous system.

  1. Anaplasmosis:

Caused by: A bacterium

Symptoms: Fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. Severe cases can lead to respiratory failure or neurological complications.

  1. Babesiosis:

Caused by: Babesia microtia or other Babesia species, parasites that infect red blood cells.

Symptoms: Fever, chills, sweats, fatigue, and hemolytic anemia. Severe cases can be life-threatening, especially in individuals with weakened immune systems.

American Dog Ticks (Dermacentor variabilis):
  1. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF):

Caused by: A bacterium

Symptoms: High fever, headache, muscle aches, and a characteristic spotted rash. If not treated promptly, RMSF can lead to severe complications, including organ failure.

  1. Tularemia:

Caused by: A bacterium

Symptoms: Fever, skin ulcers, swollen and painful lymph nodes, and respiratory symptoms. 

  1. Tick Paralysis:

Caused by: A toxin produced by the tick.

Symptoms: Progressive paralysis starting in the legs and ascending. Removal of the tick typically results in a rapid recovery.

How to prevent tick infestation?

Prevention is better than cure and the best way to prevent a tick infestation is to take personal protective measures and protect your pet(s) if you have one(some). Here are some effective ways to prevent tick infestations:

  1. Use an EPA-approved tick repellent containing ingredients like DEET, picaridin, or permethrin on exposed skin. 

  2. When going into areas with tall grass, or wooded areas, wear long-sleeved shirts, and long pants, and tuck pant legs into socks or boots to minimize skin exposure.

  3. Conduct thorough tick checks on yourself, family members, and pets after spending time outdoors. Pay close attention to areas like armpits, groin, scalp, and behind the ears.

  4. Ticks are most active during warmer months. Be especially careful in spring and summer when planning outdoor activities.

If you find ticks in your home that are beyond your control, you should immediately contact a pest control professional. One such pest control expert is RidAway. Why RidAway? Well, RidAway uses biologically friendly pesticides that leave your home safe to return to, they are state-licensed and industry-certified, and their work is guaranteed so you can rest assured the problem will be dealt with effectively.

For a quick solution to an urgent intrusion, RidAway is ready to come to your rescue.

Reference Links: Monthly Tick-borne Disease Reports | Mass.gov