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Ixodes scapularis

Common Names: Deer Tick, Black Legged Tick
Ixodes scapularis
Ixodes scapularis

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Ixodida
Family: Ixodidae
Genus: Ixodes
Species: Ixodes scapularis

Conservation Status

Identifying Features

Deer ticks are 1/16" long and have a black and brown-red abdomen.

Habitat & Range

Deer ticks live in forests and fields across the Eastern and Midwestern US.


Ticks sense their hosts by detecting their breath, body odors, body heat, moisture, and vibrations. Many tick species lie in wait for their hosts in a behavior known as “questing.” When questing, ticks cling to vegetation, waiting to grasp onto the passing host. Questing heights are correlated with the size of the desired host. Nymps tend to quest close to the ground where they encounter small mammals and birds; adults climb higher into the vegatation where larger hosts may be encountered.

They will embed their head into the skin of animals to feed off of their blood.

Life Cycle

The deer tick has a two-year life cycle, and three life stages: larva, nymph, and adult.

Larvae hatch from eggs in summer and usually feed on small mammals such as mice. After feeding, they drop to the ground and hide in the leaf litter, where they overwinter. The following spring, they molt into nymphs, feeding on mammals and birds. After feeding, they again drop off, and crawl into the leaf litter, where they molt into adults, usually in October. The adults feed mainly on deer, although adult males typically do not feed. After mating and feeding, females drop off of their host and overwinter in the leaf litter. They lay their eggs the following spring and then die.


Deer ticks can carry lyme disease. Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are transmitted to humans by hard ticks of the genus Ixodes.

Each year, there are nearly 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease across the United States, according to the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though with unconfirmed cases, the total may be as high as 300,000.

An average of 4560 confirmed cases of Lyme disease are reported in New York State annually. Most of these occur in Long Island and the Hudson Valley.

The first sign of an infection is often a red circular rash around the area of the bite, which may develop as long as 3-4 weeks after the tick has detached. The “bulls-eye” rash is not always present, but is a good indicator of infection. Other symptoms may be similar to the flu, with a fever, muscle and joint pain, tierdness, and headaches. If Lyme disease is not spotted and treated with antibiotics, it may cause long term chronic problems including arthritis, muscle pain, nerve damage, and more.

Learn more about Lyme disease from the CDC:

Featured image by Hardin, M.D. University of Iowa


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