FAQ

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

Tick Identification

1. I found a tick on myself/child/dog, but it was big so it must not be a deer tick. Am I right?

2. I've heard that ticks cannot swim, and therefore drown.  I've also read that ticks can hold their breath for up to an hour (and possibly longer).

3. We have a lot of American dog ticks in our area and we might have some blacklegged ticks, too. Since the nymphs of both species are about the same size, do dog tick nymphs bite people?

4. While working in the woods yesterday, myself, my partner and my dog all seemed to have run through a tick nest. I fear I will never find them in my hairline because I have thick, dark hair and these are tiny, tiny ticks. Should I go through a round of antibiotics for Lyme disease, just in case?

5. Can ticks live in our home? We have never had any issue with ticks in our yard or home before. What do I need to do to make sure we are tick free?

6. This morning I was stumped! I had an itch on my head so I scratched it. Low and behold I pulled my hand away with a little critter stuck under my not so long fingernail. I took him out placed it on a paper towel to look at it and to my horror i believe it was a nymph tick but I don't know what kind.

7. Would you be able to provide an email address or directions on uploading a photo so you can help me identify?

8. How do ticks breathe? Is there a specific body part that involves breathing?

1. I found a tick on myself/child/dog, but it was big so it must not be a deer tick. Am I right?

TERC Answer: All ticks (including 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.

2. I've heard that ticks cannot swim, and therefore drown.  I've also read that ticks can hold their breath for up to an hour (and possibly longer). R.A., Toronto

TERC Answer: We're not aware of any "formal" research on this specifically (including the source of your info that they can hold their "breath" for up to an hour) but here's what we've observed in our own research labs over many years:

  • Ticks definitely do not swim!
  • Ticks (at least various stages of deer ticks) can be submerged in water for 2-3 days and seem to survive just fine.

While we're not sure why this fact is important to you, the significance of this could help re-set people's thinking that ticks will be killed - in the bath,  -by swimming,   -in the washer,  -in the hot tub,  -etc. NONE of these "treatments" seems to have a deleterious impact on ticks. On the other hand, flushing a tick down the toilet should be the last you'll see of that critter.

3. We have a lot of American dog ticks in our area and we might have some blacklegged ticks, too. Since the nymphs of both species are about the same size, do dog tick nymphs bite people? (Jess, IL)

TERC Answer: American dog tick nymphs can bite people, but in most settings they rarely if ever do. In a national survey of human-biting ticks submitted for identification and testing, only one nymphal dog tick was identified in more than 2,000 submissions. In addition to nymphal blacklegged ticks, nymphal Lone star ticks also are aggressive human biters. Of course, the adult stage of American dog ticks (both female and male) readily bite humans, often being found attached in the scalp.

Use our Tick Identification guide to help determine the type of tick biting. You can also check out our growth comparison charts to see how a tick's appearance changes as it blood feeds.

What does TickEncounter look for?

4. While working in the woods yesterday, myself, my partner and my dog all seemed to have run through a tick nest. I immediately came home and bathed, then showered and my clothes were dumped into the washing machine. My partner did the same. We gave the dog a bath later that evening when we realized we were still finding ticks on us. Then I showered AGAIN. After all that I still found a tick crawling up my inner thigh. I'm sure I've missed some despite thorough checks and multiple showers, is there any other way to get these ticks off? I fear I will never find them in my hairline because I have thick, dark hair and these are tiny, tiny ticks. Should I go through a round of antibiotics for lyme, just in case? SB - Reston, VA

TERC Answer: It sounds like you encountered an egg-batch worth of larval stage Lone Star ticks, sometimes referred to as seed ticks. These larvae hatch from egg masses containing 3,000 or more eggs that all hatch at about the same time. Look closely to see if these tiny ticks have 6 legs or 8. All larval ticks hatch from eggs with just 6 legs, and after a blood meal and molting, the nymph stage emerges with 8 legs.

De-ticking clothes is best done by throwing everything into a hot dryer for 15 minutes, even before washing. The ticks will dessicate. Washing clothes first does not kill them but drying does. To get the larvae off of you and the dog before they bite, we recommend using sticky duct tape as soon as you notice the ticks latched on. If you don't find them until they're already biting, they may not come off as easily and you may need a fine-pointed tweezer to pluck them off. The good news is that larval Lone stars present little risk for pathogen transmission – they hatch from eggs as pathogen-free ticks. Lone Star ticks don't usually transmit Lyme disease anyway, so a round of antibiotics without a disease diagnosis would seem inappropriate.

BTW, from late July through September, when larval Lone Stars and larval deer ticks are out in force, we always have sticky duct tape ready for just such an encounter.

5. Six days ago we went on a hike in an area with dense brush. When we got home we found ticks everywhere. 1 on me, 1 on one child, 3 on another, and 9 on the dog. We checked everyone very carefully after we found a few on the dog, and felt confident that we found them all. Just now I noticed a tick on the edge of our dog's ear, and then another in between his toes. Those are areas we searched closely so I know they were not there last weekend. Can ticks be living in our home now? We have never had any issue with ticks in our yard or home before. What do I need to do to make sure we are tick free? Maria, Encinitas, California

TERC Answer: We wonder if you tried to use our Tick Identification Chart to find out what type of tick they were (just click on the Pacific region to view your ticks). Based on the time of year and location [June, CA], we are guessing Pacific Coast Tick (Dermacentor occidentalis). If this is the type of tick, they do not "infest" homes but might be able to survive off of a host for several days. Generally, it is just too dry in homes to sustain this type of tick for very long. Also, for next time, take note of TickSmart™ Tip #1. We would give your ticks a good 10 min at high heat in the dryer.

Related links:

Tick Identification Chart
Pacific Coast TickDermacentor occidentalis
Wood ticks (Dermacentor andersoni)

6. This morning I was stumped! I had an itch on my head so I scratched it. Low and behold I pulled my hand away with a little critter stuck under my not so long fingernail. I took him out placed it on a paper towel to look at it and to my horror i believe it was a nymph tick but I don't know what kind. Alexis, Sicklerville, NJ

Head Louse

TERC Answer: That's not a tick! Sorry to tell you but that is a head louse. Your picture is great--note the 6 legs (3 per side). Happily, there are very effective head louse treatments available over the counter. We recommend that you talk with your pharmacist but one excellent product is called Nix for lice.

Related links:

CDC Lice information

7. Would you be able to provide an email address or directions on uploading a photo so you can help me identify?

TERC Answer: Yes! Submit your tick to TickSpotters! We also have a tick identification guide so you can id your tick like the TickGuy. ;)

8. How do ticks breathe? Is there a specific body part that involves breathing?

spiracular plate

TERC Answer: In ticks, a series of thin-walled tubes called tracheae transport atmospheric oxygen and waste gases between the spiracles on the tick’s outer surface to tracheal end cells and tracheoles, bringing air directly to, but not into, individual cells. The numerous spiracle openings are located within paired spiracular plates, which are either round or elliptically-shaped structures found laterally, just behind the last pair of legs in nymphs and adult ticks. Opening and closing of the spiracles is controlled by muscle movements and hydrostatic pressure of the hemolymph. Most larval ticks don’t have spiracles; in larvae, respiration occurs directly across the tick’s thin cuticular body surface.

Ticks have to balance the need for oxygen with the potential loss of internal body water, or they’ll dessicate. Ticks are able to close their spiracles and can survive for long periods without air exchange. Recently hydrated and freshly engorged ticks are unable to regulate closing of their spiracles and lose water quickly.

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.