American Dog Tick

What To Know About American Dog TicksDermacentor variabilis

American dog ticks are found everywhere across the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, especially along the East Coast. Dermacentor variabilis are known to transmit diseases to humans, dogs and cats too. D. variabilis can be found pretty much anywhere on your property including play sets, furniture, lawns, sidewalks and the side of your house.   They’re big, ugly and fast too!

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American Dog Tick Understanding

Physical Characteristics

Adult American dog ticks have 8 legs and are fairly large, roughly 5mm long. The females are reddish-brown in color, have distinctive white markings on their scutum (dorsal shield), whereas the adult male is slightly smaller in size, similarly colored with elaborate white markings on their entire back.  

Nymphs also have 8 legs and are yellow-brown in color and have red colorations near their eyes.  Larvae have 6 legs, are yellow in color, have red colorations near their eyes and are slightly smaller than a poppy seed.

Larvae and nymphs color will change to greyish-black after they have had a bloodmeal. Adult females with double in size and their color will change to grayish-brown when engorged.  D. variabilis size and coloration are dependent upon the tick’s gender, life stage and their level of engorgement.

Habitat & Range

The American dog tick is found in a variety of habitats. Typical residential properties with wood lines, leaf litter, groundcover and shrub beds are hot spots. D. variabilis also live in urban areas, particularly in parks or other open spaces. 

Microclimates with high humidity and tall foliage found in wooded or grassy ecotones, fields, meadows, roadsides and hiking trails support high tick populations.

The adult stage can also be seen on structures like picnic tables, playsets, decks and lawn furniture.  D. variabilis can survive in a variety of environments, and can be found pretty much everywhere!

Life Cycle & Hosts

American dog ticks are three-host ticks that go through four stages in their life cycle: egg, larvae, nymph and adult male/female. Their life cycle takes approximately 2 years to complete depending on host availability, host location and temperature. Adult ticks will mate while feeding on large animals. The male will die after mating and the female will lay its egg mass in leaf litter immediately or over-winter and then lay them in the spring.  It takes approximately 30 days for the eggs to hatch.

Larvae ticks tend to feed on smaller mammals, such as mice or chipmunks. Nymphs prefer small to medium sized hosts and range from mice to raccoons and rarely feed on humans.

Adults prefer larger mammals like dogs, horses, cattle and humans. Adults can survive without a blood meal for up to 2 years, nymphs can survive for 6 months and larvae can go 11 months without a blood meal.

All stages are active March through September dependent on geographic distribution.

Medical & Veterinary Importance

The American dog tick adult can transmit the causative agent that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and the bacteria that causes Tularemia to humans.  It can also cause Canine Tick Paralysis in dogs which can kill the animal unless the tick is removed in time.