Lone Star Tick

What To Know About Lone Star Ticks – Amblyomma americanum

Lone Star ticks have expanded into the Northeast along coastlines and their numbers are growing due to milder winters and the abundance of the ticks preferred host, the white-tailed deer. These ticks are known to carry various diseases and have a painful bite and crawl rather quickly.  Amblyomma americanum will hunt you down and ruin your day. Lone Star ticks can be a serious health concern for both humans and animals.  

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Lone Star Tick Understanding

Physical Characteristics

Adult female Lone Star ticks have the recognizable bright yellowish-white star-shaped dot on the center of their back, their bodies are light reddish-brown in color. Males are absent of the star-shaped dot and are light reddish-brown in color. Males are slightly smaller than the female, they are both round in shape about the size of a sesame seed and have 8 legs. 

Nymphs are round in shape and are about the size of a poppy seed and have 8 legs. The larvae are round in shape and are slightly bigger than a grain of sand. Larvae have 6 legs. Immature stage ticks do not have the star-shaped dot.

Size and coloration are dependent upon the tick’s gender, life stage and their level of engorgement. A.americanum have long straight mouth parts.  When they bite, they inject a small amount of saliva into their host’s bloodstream.  A.americanum ticks are hunter ticks that can actively pursue hosts following CO2 trails and are aggressive biters.

Habitat & Range

Lone Star ticks are widely distributed in the south-eastern, mid-Atlantic and south-central United States, but their range has been expanding north and west.  Recently They have been identified along the coast of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

Lone Star ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas, such as forests and parks. However, they can also be found in grassy areas and even urban environments.

Adults are found in woodlands with dense understory while the nymphs and larvae are found in leaf litter with a preference to sandy soils. Lone Star ticks are most active during the spring and summer months.

Life Cycle & Hosts

Lone Star ticks are three-host ticks, feeding on different hosts during the larval, nymphal and adult stages.  Amblyomma americanum go through four stages in their life cycle: egg, larvae, nymph and adult male/female. This takes up to 3 years to complete.  Egg masses of over 3000 eggs are laid in the early spring and the eggs will hatch into larvae in late spring and early summer.  Tick activity dependent on geographic distribution.

The larvae will then feed once on a host animal, usually small rodents, birds and turkeys as well as white-tailed deer July through October. After feeding on the host’s blood for several days, the larvae will drop off and molt and over-winter emerging the following spring as a nymph.

The nymph will feed once on a host animal, usually medium sized mammals, birds and turkeys as well as white-tailed deer May through August, detach, molt, over-winter emerging the following spring as an adult tick. 

The adult tick will feed only once on a host animal for up to 24 days April through August as well as mate on the host animal, preferably a white-tailed deer.  Once engorged, the adult female will detach, lay her egg mass up to 3 weeks later then die. The male adult will mate with many females then die.  Eggs will hatch the following spring. An adult can survive for up to 2 years before it finds a host

Medical & Veterinary Importance

Lone Star ticks are known to transmit to humans Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia. Heartland virus, Bourbon virus and also known to cause a condition called Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI).

As of late, there is evidence to suggest that people may develop alpha-gal syndrome (AGS) an allergy to red meat triggered by a component of Lone Star tick saliva. The allergy takes 1 to 3 months to develop. Symptoms can appear 2 to 6 hours after eating red meat. Some symptoms can be life threatening. 

The same bacteria that can cause ehrlichiosis in humans can also infect dogs.  Cats can contract bobcat fever caused by the protozoan Cytauxzoon felis.