Frequently Asked Questions : Get TickSmart! Use our TickSmart categories to find appropriate links to additional content in TERC.

Seasonal Information

1. Do ticks die after the first frost?

TERC Answer: No such luck! Some species, like American dog tick and Lone Star tick are just not active in fall and winter months. Others, like Blacklegged (deer) tick can remain active in their adult stage from fall to spring as long as the temperature is above freezing. Each life stage (larvae, nymph and adult) of any species of tick has a discrete time period when it is most likely to be looking for a host.

Do these brutal polar vortex episodes sweeping the eastern half of the nation kill blacklegged (deer) ticks? It’d be nice, right?

2. I found a tick on my dog in November, December, January, February. But it was a "big" tick. Not to worry, right?

TERC Answer: All ticks (incl. deer ticks, dog ticks, Lone star ticks, etc.) come in small, medium and large sizes. The smallest size, called larvae, are nearly microscopic. The middle stage, called nymphs, are medium sized although most people would call them tiny. Nymphs of all ticks are about the size of a pin head in their un-fed state. Then there are the large size or adult stage ticks. Even the adult stage of Blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks) that transmit Lyme disease are relatively large. In the northeastern United States, the most common "large" tick likely to bite dogs, cats, horses, and humans in the Fall and Winter months is the Blacklegged tick, and it can transmit disease-causing agents including Lyme bacteria. Typically, about 50% of adult Blacklegged ticks are infected with Lyme bacteria.

3. I recently have noticed a huge increase in ticks after not seeing many all summer. What's going on? BH, Exeter RI

TERC Answer: Blacklegged ticks are seasonal pests and you just have to know which seasons that they are typically active. The adult stages of this tick begin to become active as the season changes from summer to fall. In the northeastern U.S., these adult stage ticks start to become abundant early in October, and they will remain active through the winter as long as the temperatures are above freezing and the ground is not frozen or covered by snow. The nymphal stage of this tick is active during the late spring and summer. In RI, the summer of 2006 was the second "tickiest" summer in the past 14 years. There were plenty of these tiny pests out there, but they are harder to see.

4. Can I still get Lyme disease once there is frost? Patricia, Appleton, WI

TERC Answer: Most people think that bloodsuckers like mosquitoes and ticks disappear along with the risk for disease transmission once there is a frost and the weather turns cooler. That's true for mosquitoes; they either die, or some species go into a feeding diapause. Some ticks also go into a feeding diapause in the autumn, but not deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) - they are a different type of bug! The adult stage deer tick actually begins its feeding activity about the time of first frost (or early October throughout its range), and it will latch onto any larger host (cat to human) any day that the temperature is near or above freezing.

Typically, the Lyme disease spirochete infection rate in adult female deer ticks is 40-60% in the eastern and mid-western portion of this tick's range. However, these ticks need to be attached for at least 48 hrs before they begin transmitting any infection through their saliva. So, even in the fall it is important to check yourself and your pets daily for any attached ticks, and continue to take precautions like using clothing repellents on you and topical products on your pets.

5. I am a student at Rowan University in southern New Jersey, on the periphery of the Pine Barrens. I am aware of the tick situation in this area, but have a specific question regarding their habitat. I am planning an overnight hike on the Batona Trail in the Pine Barrens this weekend (mid-March), and I saw the temperature is going to reach the high 50's. Despite the fact that ticks are not traditionally active until the spring/summer months, your documentary film mentions that they are active in temperatures above freezing. Do you think ticks would be extremely active on a weekend such as the one upcoming, based on temperature and time of year? I know about permethrin, wearing white socks with pants tucked in...but can you offer up any other tips? - Tom S., NJ

TERC Answer: Spring actually arrives this weekend, but deer ticks don't wait for spring to become active. The larger adult stage deer ticks that were left over from the fall (didn't find a host) emerge from under the snow as soon as the ground thaws. They can be active anytime the temperature is above or even close to freezing as long as the ground is not frozen or covered with snow. It is common at this time of year for adult deer ticks to be quite active—they climb up shrubby vegetation about knee-high and hope to latch on if a host comes by. In NJ, by late March/early April, you may also begin finding Lone Star tick adults and adult stage dog ticks. So, our advice Tom is to take just a few extra minutes the day before you go to treat your clothes and shoes with permethrin tick repellent , or purchase and plan to wear clothes that come with permethrin tick repellent built in. When you are done for the day, be sure to check your body carefully, looking especially for adult stage ticks—and for tips on where to check most thoroughly, try our Tick-Bite Locator . Finally, deer ticks are usually found on trail edges and in the forest, so trying to always stay in the middle of the trail can help reduce tick encounter risk. Have fun but be tick aware!

6. Where do wood ticks live? Do they live near water or are they like other ticks in wooded areas? Do all 50 states have them? If you get bitten by these ticks do you get Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? June T., Virginia

TERC Answer: In VA, the ticks you may find at this time of year [Late May, June] are either American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis ) or Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Dog ticks carry the Rocky Mtn Spotted Fever agent, and they can transmit it in the first few hrs of attachment. Prompt removal of this tick is highly recommended to prevent infection. Luckily, only about 1 in 1000 or perhaps in your area, 1 in 500 carry the agent.

Both of these species of ticks, once attached, can take 7 – 12 days to completely fill up with blood, at which point they will detach, lay eggs and die. Am. dog ticks are found in just about every state but the risk of RMSF is greatest in the southeastern USA. Wood ticks (Dermacentor andersoni) are a closely related species typically only found west of the Mississippi River, mostly in the northern mountain states to Washington and Oregon.

Related links:

American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis )
Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum)
Wood ticks (Dermacentor andersoni)
Disclaimer: TickEncounter Resource Center FAQ answers come from a variety of expert sources, including Dr. Mather’s nearly 30 years of active tick research and study of tick-borne disease prevention. Our mission is to engage, educate and empower people to take tick bite protection and disease prevention actions. TERC staff are not medical doctors and do not diagnose tick-borne disease or make treatment recommendations. If you are experiencing disease symptoms, please consult a knowledgeable medical doctor to determine treatment methods best for your situation.