TickEncounter receives tick pictures from people across the country. As part of our TickSpotter initiative, we'd like to share what characteristics we look for when it comes to identifying ticks. As citizen scientist, we encourage you to be as accurate as possible when submitting a TickSpotters find. Here's three areas to look for in unfed adult stage ticks:
Ticks have a dorsal scutum or "shield" and each species has a unique pattern or color. Ixodes ticks often have a black/brown solid colored scutum. Whereas, Dermacentor and Amblyomma ticks each have a patterned scutum.
Festoons are small areas separated by short grooves on the back margin of the tick and helps distinguish all other ticks from Ixodes ticks, which lack festoons.
Based on your location in North America and the time of year, only certain ticks will be active. You can use our Current Tick Activity application to help gauge what ticks are possible and then combine that with the scutum and festoons identification.
The length of the tick's Capitulum (Mouthparts) can help determine the type of tick. Dermacentor ticks have shorter mouthparts than Ixodes or Amblyomma . This also contributes to how easy it is to remove each species of tick. In order to tell the gender of a tick, you can look at the size of the scutum. Female adult stage ticks have a smaller scutum, whereas a male's scutum covers nearly the entire dorsal (top) of their body.
Even when you remove an engorged tick, it's still possible to determine what kind of tick it is by the scutum, your location, and time of year.