Guide to different tick species and the diseases they carry

From walking the dog to camping, it helps to know which ticks live in your area and what diseases they can spread. Most tick bites are painless or cause only minor symptoms, such as a change in skin color. But the bite from some ticks can be serious.

In the United States, the number of people diagnosed with tick-borne diseases has increased. In the years between 2004 and 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that tick-borne diseases rose from about 22,500 cases to about 50,800 cases. As of 2019, Lyme disease is the most often diagnosed tick-borne illness.

Here are images of unfed, human-biting ticks. The images also show where the ticks might be found in the U.S. and the diseases they're known to carry.

Black-legged tick or deer tick

The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, is mainly found in the eastern half and Midwest region of the U.S. The scientific name for this tick is Ixodes scapularis.

The black-legged tick can spread parasites, bacteria and a virus with its bite. The diseases humans can get from a black-legged tick bite are:

  • Anaplasmosis.
  • Babesiosis.
  • Ehrlichiosis due to Ehrlichia muris eauclairensis.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Borrelia miyamotoi disease.
  • Powassan virus disease.
Black-legged tick

Lone Star tick

The Lone Star tick is mainly found in the Southern and Eastern U.S. Its scientific name is Amblyomma americanum.

The Lone Star tick can spread:

  • Ehrlichiosis due to Ehrlichiosis chaffeensis and Ehrlichiosis ewingii.
  • Heartland virus disease.
  • Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI).
  • Bourbon virus disease.
  • Tularemia.
Lone Star tick

Alpha-gal syndrome and the Lone Star tick

Bites from the Lone Star tick can sometimes lead to alpha-gal syndrome, which is associated with a meat allergy. As the tick feeds, it transfers a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into the body. In some people, this molecule triggers a reaction from the body's immune system. It causes an allergic reaction to certain meats, such as beef, pork or lamb, but not poultry or fish. It also may cause reactions to other foods, such as dairy products or gelatins, that come from mammals.

American dog tick

The American dog tick is mainly found east of the U.S. Rocky Mountains. The scientific name for this tick is Dermacentor variabilis. The American dog tick also is found in some areas of the Pacific Coast. Those populations may be made up of D. variabilis or a related tick, Dermacentor similis.

American dog ticks can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.

American dog tick

Western black-legged tick

The western black-legged tick is mainly found along the U.S. Pacific Coast. The scientific name for this tick is Ixodes pacificus.

The Western black-legged tick can spread anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Lyme disease.

Western black-legged tick

Rocky Mountain wood tick

The Rocky Mountain wood tick is mainly found in the U.S. Rocky Mountain states and southwestern Canada. The scientific name for this tick is Dermacentor andersoni.

The Rocky Mountain wood tick can spread Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.

Rocky Mountain wood tick

Brown dog tick

The brown dog tick can be found worldwide, including throughout the entire U.S. The scientific name is Rhipicephalus sanguineus. It's responsible for spreading Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the southwestern U.S. and along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Brown dog tick

Gulf Coast tick

The Gulf Coast tick is mainly found in U.S. states along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast of Mexico. The scientific name for this tick is Amblyomma maculatum. This tick can spread a form of spotted fever called Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis.

Gulf Coast tick

Asian longhorned tick

The Asian longhorned tick is usually found in countries including eastern China, Japan, the Russian Far East and the Korean Peninsula.

Since 2017, the tick has been reported in a handful of U.S. states. Because these ticks are spreading rapidly, they are likely present in other states as well. The scientific name for this tick is Haemaphysalis longicornis.

The tick can spread germs that cause serious human diseases, such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and rickettsiosis. But the risk of illness in humans in the U.S. from this tick's bite is still unknown.

Asian longhorned tick

Soft ticks

Soft ticks are a different type of tick from the black-legged tick or Lone Star tick. Soft ticks have soft, leathery bodies and bite for only short periods of time.

Soft ticks mainly bite rodents. But soft ticks also bite humans if they are nearby. Bites often happen when a person sleeps in a shelter or cabin where rodents have made nests.

One example of a soft tick is Ornithodoros hermsi. It is found at higher altitudes in the Western U.S. This tick, as well as other soft ticks, can spread borrelia bacteria to hosts and cause tick-borne relapsing fever.

Soft tick

Ticks and where to find them

Tick populations change from year to year. The shift is based on the ticks' access to places they like to live and the species they feed on, as well as the weather. Tick ranges grow or shrink depending on trends in these factors over time.

Local resources, such as state health departments, can give you detailed knowledge on ticks before you head outdoors.

In general, ticks live in places with long grass or in wooded areas with trees and shrubs. Ticks also like places with a layer of decaying plant material, called leaf litter.

Preventing tick bites

Your body heat, breath, motion and scent are what ticks use to find you. Ticks also use a range of strategies to find prey. Some tend to climb tall grass or other vegetation, while others wait in dead logs or leaf litter.

Suggestions on how to avoid tick bites include:

  • Wear light-colored clothing. Plan to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into light-colored socks. It can help you see any ticks before they make it to your skin.
  • Use a tick repellent. Experts suggest treating your clothing, camping gear and skin with repellents designed for each use.

    Examples of chemicals that may be in tick repellents are N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide — also called DEET — permethrin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and picaridin. Check the directions on each product. Some can't be used on the skin or clothing. Don't use certain products on children younger than age 3.

  • Check for ticks right away after going back indoors. Take a shower or bath and check for ticks right after you get home. Check in hair and at the hairline, around the ears, under the arms, between the legs, and on the backs of the knees. Check at the waistband of pants and the cuffs of socks.
  • Make sure pets are tick-free. Pets can get sick from the bacteria and parasites ticks spread. So make sure your pet is treated to prevent tick bites. And check for ticks on any pets that go outside.
  • Wash clothes in hot water and dry on the high setting. Heat can help get rid of ticks that might still be on your clothes.
  • If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers or something similar. Experts say not to burn the tick or coat it with anything. Remove the tick by putting a pair of tweezers as close as possible to where the tick is attached to your skin. Pull on the tick with steady pressure. Then wash the area with soap and water, or with rubbing alcohol.

    Take a picture of the tick, or if you can safely do it, save the tick so your healthcare team can identify the tick species. That can help with a diagnosis if you start to feel sick.

If you find a tick, don't panic.

Getting a tick off as quickly as possible can help lower the chance that you'll get a disease spread by ticks.

Remove it, save it and contact your healthcare professional if you are in an area with a high rate of Lyme disease. Areas in the U.S. with higher rates of Lyme disease include the Northeast, Minnesota, Wisconsin and areas around Lake Michigan.

See your healthcare team if you notice a rash, fever, extreme tiredness, or joint swelling and pain within 30 days of the tick bite.

Nov. 14, 2023 See more In-depth