Now that summer is officially here, Oklahomans all over the state will be ditching their rain boots and jackets for some fun in the sun. As you hit the hiking trails and spend more time in the great outdoors this season, creepy crawlers may be the last thing on your mind. However, a mild winter and a long rainy season has created the perfect environment for one critter, in particular, to become a major threat this year: ticks.
As the weather heats up and ticks become more active in the coming months, it will crucial to be aware of the risks that ticks pose to your family and pets, as well as how you can protect yourself from their dangerous bites.
What are Ticks?
Ticks are small arachnids that feed on the blood of mammals, birds, reptiles, and occasionally humans. Most tick species are active during the warmer, summer months, and due to their hard outer shells, can survive in extreme environments. This combined with the fact that they have very few natural predators means that ticks often appear in large numbers this time of year. They are most commonly found in tall grasses, brushy areas, and in areas with large amounts of dead leaves.
Lifecycle of a Tick
Although tick life cycles and life spans vary by species, most ticks found in Oklahoma can live up to several years and go through four distinct life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult.
After a tick hatches, it is classified as a larva. These larvae, commonly called “seed ticks,” are approximately the size of a pin head, making them difficult to see unless they accumulate in large numbers. Tick larvae tend to seek out and feed on bird and rodent hosts.
After feeding on its first host, the larvae will progress to the nymphal stage. Nymphs, also called “yearlings,” are about the size of a poppy seed and commonly feed on larger rodents, pets, and sometimes humans.
The last stage of the tick life cycle is the adult form. When fully grown, adult ticks are about the size of an apple seed. If you spot a tick on yourself or a pet, it will most likely an adult. These ticks are much more visible than their younger counterparts and tend to feed on larger hosts such as pets and humans.
Once adult ticks have finished the feeding process, the males will die while the females will go on to lay eggs and begin the life cycle over again.
Ticks in Oklahoma
There are several distinct species of ticks that call Oklahoma home. Keep an eye out for the following critters this summer, as they can carry serious diseases that could result in a trip to the hospital or veterinarian.
American Dog Tick
The American dog tick likes to seek out dogs and other small animals as their preferred hosts. Adult American dog ticks also attack humans if they have the opportunity. This species is characterized by light-colored spots (usually white, gray, or silver) scattered across its back. They are most commonly found in high-use, woody recreational areas, such as hiking or biking trails.
Diseases Carried: American dog ticks are known to carry tularemia and are the only proven transmitter of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in Oklahoma.
Brown Dog Tick
The brown dog tick is the most widely distributed tick species in the world and is common throughout Oklahoma. This species primarily targets dogs as hosts, but when dogs bring the pests indoors unknowingly, bites to humans become more likely.
Adult brown dog ticks are most often found in a dog’s ears or in between their toes, while the larval and nymphal stages tend to target the long hair on the back of their necks. It is important to check these areas on your pets at least daily if they regularly go outdoors during the summer. If ticks go unnoticed on pets, an extensive loss of blood can lead to secondary anemia or possibly death.
Prevention Tip: Brown dog ticks like to crawl upwards and are commonly found in the cracks and crevices of dog kennels or porch ceilings.
Diseases Carried: The brown dog tick is known to transmit canine ehrlichiosis and babesiosis, which both affect domestic dogs. This species is also a known vector of Q fever.
Lone Star Tick
The lone star tick is rightly named for the lone, white spot found on the back of the females of this species. The males do not have this signature mark but have non-connected white markings around their posterior region. These little fellas are active from early spring to late fall and prefer to wait for hosts along trails or pathways.
Diseases Carried: The lone star tick commonly carries ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and Q fever.
Blacklegged Tick (Deer Tick)
Blacklegged ticks, also regularly called deer ticks, are prevalent pests of livestock and wildlife in eastern Oklahoma. Although this species prefers animal hosts, they can also inflict painful bites on humans. They have no colorful markings and wait for their hosts on paths, trails, and roadways. The adults are most active in late September and October, while the larvae and nymphs are active in the spring and summer months.
Diseases Carried: The blacklegged tick is a transmitter of anaplasmosis to cattle and the nymphal stage is the main transmitter of Lyme disease.
Diseases Carried by Ticks
Ticks are known to transmit several disease-causing organisms to their hosts through their saliva while feeding. Below are tick-borne diseases that could be carried by ticks in the Oklahoma City metro area. If you’ve been bitten by a tick, it is important to be aware of any symptoms and to seek medical attention as quickly as possible.
Babesiosis is a tick-borne infection that affects both dogs and humans. Infection mostly occurs during the summer months when ticks are most active. Babesiosis infects and attacks red blood cells leading to hemolytic anemia. This makes the disease hard to detect unless visible symptoms are present.
Symptoms of Babesiosis in Humans
- Shortness of breath
- Thermal dysregulation
- Heart palpitations
- Neuropathy (numbness/pain caused by nerve damage)
Symptoms of Babesiosis in Dogs
- Lack of energy or appetite
- Pale gums
- Enlarged abdomen
- Colored urine
- Weight loss
- Yellow/orange skin
- Discolored stool
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (also known as tick-borne typhus) is the most common tick-borne disease in Oklahoma and is also the most frequently fatal. Oklahoma consistently ranks in the top three states for the number of confirmed cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the United States. Most cases occur between the months of April and September and peak in the months of June, July, and August.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Sudden fever, chills, muscle aches, or headaches that occur up to 14 days after being bitten by the tick
- Sleeplessness, restlessness, delirium, and a spotty rash on hands and feet within 2-3 days of onset of fever
Ehrlichiosis is a rare disease in humans but is fairly common in dogs. The disease is spread by both the lone star tick and the brown dog tick.
Symptoms of Human Ehrlichiosis
- Aches and pains in joints
- Loss of appetite
- Eye pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis
Acute stage symptoms present around one to three weeks after a bite from an infected tick:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Weakness, lethargy, depression
- Lack of appetite
- Difficult respiration
- Limb edema, or swelling caused by fluid retention
- Abnormal bleeding or nose bleeds
- Severe weight loss
- Trouble breathing due to inflammation of lungs
- Joint pain
- Lack of coordination or head tilt
- Eye pain
- Kidney failure
Although Lyme disease is extremely common in the Northern and Northeastern regions of the U.S., the disease is uncommon in the state of Oklahoma. Nymphal blacklegged ticks are the main carriers of Lyme disease. Without treatment, symptoms of Lyme disease can return months or even years later, growing more and more severe.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
- Rash that appears within three days to three weeks after being bitten that grows from the size of a half dollar and expands in a ring or bull’s eye pattern
- Flu-like symptoms: Fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, and backache
- Can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort as well as long-term disability if allowed to progress to later stages
Tick paralysis is not a disease, but a condition caused when ticks inject saliva into the bite while feeding. It is most often caused by the American dog tick and can only occur while the tick is still attached to your skin, especially if the tick bites the back of your head near the base of the skull or near your spinal cord. Severe cases of tick paralysis usually occur in children with long hair where the feeding tick cannot be seen easily. Once the tick is removed the symptoms will disappear.
Symptoms of Tick Paralysis
- First appears as paralysis of hands and feet
- Paralysis will then progress to your arms and legs with loss of coordination
- If paralysis is allowed to progress, it will move to the face and thoracic muscles, which can lead to difficulty breathing and possibly death.
Most cases of tularemia occur in eastern Oklahoma. This tick-borne disease is commonly carried by both American dog ticks and lone star ticks but can be transmitted by various species across the United States.
Symptoms of Tularemia
- Flu-like symptoms
- Initial fever, followed by a temporary remission and then an additional fever period of two weeks
- Local lesions
- Conjunctivitis (pinkeye)
- Enlarged lymph nodes
Although Q fever is normally spread by livestock, such as cattle sheep and goats, this disease is also known to be transmitted to humans by both the brown dog tick and the lone star tick. Q fever is highly uncommon in both Oklahoma and the U.S., with fewer than 200 reported cases each year. Only about half of those infected with Q fever have visible symptoms.
Symptoms of Q Fever
- Chills or sweats
- Headache or muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
Protection from Ticks for You and Your Pets
Protecting yourself and your pets from ticks and the diseases they carry is as easy as following a few simple guidelines when you’re out and about this summer. It’s important to remember that ticks do not jump, fly, or drop from trees. Ticks can only crawl. So make sure to keep an eye on the ground in areas where ticks are typically found.
Although you may think that you will notice as soon as a tick latches onto you, the truth is, you probably won’t. Tick bites are usually painless and the critters tend to seek out moist (and more difficult to see) parts of the body, including the groin area, armpits, scalp, behind your ears and knees, and around your waistline.
If you or your pet has been bitten by a tick, follow these steps to safely remove it:
- Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the surface of your skin as possible.
- If you do not have a pair of tweezers handy, use tissues or a cloth to protect your fingers and grab the tick firmly. Protecting your fingers is essential in case the tick is accidentally crushed during removal. The tick’s bodily fluids could be infected and can be transferred from your hands to eyes, mouth, or open wounds.
- Pull the tick straight out at a slow, steady pace ensuring that you remove the entire tick.
- DO NOT remove ticks with a match or other hot objects, as this may cause the tick to salivate and introduce further disease-causing organisms into the site of the bite.
Tick Prevention for Your Home and Lawn
One of the best ways to prevent ticks from infesting your lawn or home is deterring the buildup of tall grasses, unwanted weeds, or other brush near your home. Regular mowing and removing ticks from your pets are also key factors in keeping ticks at bay.
Acenitec Pest and Lawn Services uses effective and safe methods to help prevent pests like ticks from becoming a problem down the road. Our family- and pet-friendly insecticides can be applied not only to your lawn, but to the nooks and crannies that bugs love to call home around your house.
Acenitec’s Quarterly Pest Control Program provides a quarterly visit from our pest technicians to treat both indoor and outdoor areas, while our Outside-Only Pest Control & Elimination service provides protection for those not comfortable with chemicals being introduced to their homes.
Concerned about ticks this summer? Contact us to discuss your pest control needs and get a FREE quote. If you’re interested in receiving Acenitec news, tips, and discounts, sign up for our quarterly email newsletter!