Animals that carry ticks

Thanks for visiting my blog! So, this edition is about a part of my beautiful world that is actually not so appealing to me, but it does represent some of my learning about nature over the past few years. The photos aren’t beautiful, but they do show something interesting (at least to me). Be forewarned! (And next week, back to some nice bird photos.)

Many proponents of getting rid of deer in our town argue that this will help eradicate the ticks that carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other tick-borne diseases. It is true that ticks get on the deer, but what many people don’t know is that other animals transport these nasty little bloodsuckers as well.

According to the NC State University Department of Entomology, ticks go through four stages in their development – egg, larva, nymph, adult. The developing ticks need blood meals, with most species taking it from a different type of host at each stage. As seen in the photo of the poor white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) below, the ticks start out tiny but swell up tremendously when they have had a meal.

deer with several ticks IMG_6000 ©Maria de Bruynres

The larvae of the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), which can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, take blood from white-footed field mice and pine or meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), like the one pictured here. The nymphs go for somewhat bigger mammals such as opossums or raccoons, while the adults prefer meals from humans and dogs. Black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) larvae and nymphs feed on small mammals and lizards, while the nymphs and adults also seek out larger mammals, including dogs and deer. Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) are another tick host.

meadow vole IMG_4712©Maria de BruynRabbit with tick  IMG_8196©Maria de Bruynres

In the past couple years, the first wildlife that I have seen carrying ticks in the spring are birds – common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) seem to be a favorite host, although I’ve seen them on other birds as well. The ticks can sense body heat and will even drop down from a tree onto another living species. This undoubtedly accounts for the first tick that gave me a bite requiring antibiotics to prevent Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It was during a visit to an exotic wildlife sanctuary that has been surrounded by an electric fence for more than 30 years so that no deer have been there for decades.

Common grackle 4 ©Maria de BruynCommon grackle 1 ©Maria de Bruyn

Ticks also wait in the grass to latch onto animals – and people – walking by. Fortunately, I’ve never found ticks on my indoor-outdoor cat, but I have found them on me after being in the yard and out on nature walks. Different techniques for loosening their grip have worked well – a new skill that I had never anticipated learning. There are few animal species that I really dislike, but I must admit that ticks are definitely one of them. But I also know now that eradicating deer is not the solution to getting rid of the ticks.

Next blog: Big Blue – my avian nemesis!

2 thoughts on “Animals that carry ticks

  1. Maria
    Great article and good photos, although not very appealing. The New Hope Audubon Society has had a professor from UNC do presentations on ticks in the past!


    • Thanks, Tom! I realize the photos are not “pleasant” but interesting nonetheless. I was so surprised to see the birds with ticks some years back and many people probably don’t know they carry them, too. Next time, the blog will have “nicer” photos!


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