Where Do Ticks Go In the Winter? DeerBusters Canada

Where Do Ticks Go In the Winter?

by Jennifer Smith November 21, 2016

You hear that ticks are a year-long problem; but can ticks survive in the winter? Ticks remain most active when temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit; but they do not go away in the winter, nor do they die because of the cold. Depending on the species, and stage of life of the tick, they become dormant or latch on to their host — like a warm-blooded human or deer. Just like humans, ticks wish to stay warm; and they will hide in leafy or wooden areas where they can escape the harsher temperatures. When snow falls, they will bury themselves in debris or whatever they can find. As noted in previous Deerbusters blog posts, deer ticks do not jump or fly; but instead they crawl upward.

Tick cases are most reported during the Summer and Fall months when individuals are enjoying outside activities such as hiking, walking outside or tending to gardens. But, now that the cold weather is here, you may be thinking that you are in the clear of getting bit by a deer tick or being infected by Lyme Disease. Think again.

Which tick species should you worry about this time of year?

Well, all of them. After any outdoor activity, it is best to perform a thorough tick-check on yourself, your family, and your pets. Most American dog ticks and lone star ticks are usually not common during the fall season, nor the wintertime; but Black-legged [deer] ticks remain active. The winter tick, commonly found on moose in the Northeastern region of the country, remain active, as well.

Here are things you should know about deer ticks:

1) Deer ticks come in small, medium and large sizes. They have a shell-like exterior and bury their heads into hosts;

2) Not all deer ticks carry Lyme Disease! However, if a deer tick attaches to your skin, you must remove it immediately with a tick remover tool; and get tested for Lyme by a doctor. You will have approximately 24-48 hours to remove the deer tick before the possibility of Lyme Disease transmission occurs;

3) Deer ticks may look like freckles, or poppy seeds on your skin. Take a closer look after outdoor interests.

4) Lyme Disease can be prevented. Wear protective clothing when outside for extended periods of time; and apply insect and tick repellent to yourself and your garden area.


Do ticks transmit lyme in winter

This is part of a series of posts from our own Shane Hanlon’s disease ecology class that he’s currently teaching at the University of Pittsburgh Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. Students were asked to write popular science posts about (mostly) wildlife diseases. Check out all the posts here.

White-tailed deer in winter.

By Alec Kistler

Similar to other wildlife diseases, there are myths about Lyme disease. While many myths exists, one of the most interesting myths about Lyme disease pertains to transmission. People believe that ticks cannot survive in the winter; so, Lyme disease cannot be transmitted during winter.

In the United States, Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases carried by ticks. Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. When an infected blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, bites a host, it can transmit the bacteria to the host. It takes approximately 36 – 48 hours for a nymph (juvenile) tick to transmit the bacteria to its host. Adult ticks are also able to pass on the bacteria; however, they are usually spotted and removed before transmission. While Lyme disease is worldwide, it is highly concentrated in northeastern and northern American states. After spending time outside, it is vital to check for ticks. In the summer, it is extremely important to check; but it is also important to check during the winter months.

Unlike summer, winter is deceiving. It is cold during the winter months. Because of the cold, it is challenging for organisms to survive. Due to this knowledge, people have the misconception that ticks cannot survive in winter. This is not true. Depending on the species and life cycle stage of the tick, they are able to survive in the cold. Some tick species can be active above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, while others tick species can be active above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Below their specific threshold temperature, ticks must go dormant or find a host.

If a tick is unable to find a host, it must go dormant. When a tick goes dormant, they must find a place to hide under leaves, branches, plants, etc. for protection. Anywhere that will provide some shelter against the winter weather. Even snow does not kill ticks. It insulates them. Once the snow thaws, the ticks become active again. Some ticks, such as soft-shell ticks, must burrow underground in order to survive.

If a tick is lucky enough to find a host, they will latch on for the entire winter. During those months, the host provides shelter and nourishment. When the tick is not feeding on the host, it will attach to the organism’s hair. When winter is over, the tick will leave its current host and find a new one.

Climate change is impacting tick activity during winter. Winters are becoming warmer. The temperature is constantly fluctuating; some days the temperature is below 10 degrees Fahrenheit and some days the temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmer weather allows the ticks to be more active during winter and this can result in an increased number of Lyme disease incidents.

Do not become a victim to the misconception about ticks and Lyme disease. So, while it is more likely to get Lyme disease in the summer, it is not impossible to get Lyme disease in the winter. While it is important to be vigilant during the warmer months, some ticks are still active and the disease can still be transmitted.

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Want to read more about Lyme disease? Here is the link to the CDC’s Lyme disease Page.

Want to learn more about ticks during winter? Here is the link.


Do ticks live in the winter ?

Wiki User
January 14, 2009 7:24PM

There’s no doubt about it, ticks are nasty little buggers. Any

creature that attaches itself to your skin and sucks your blood is

high on the list of things you want to avoid. Worse yet, ticks

present a health risk for both dogs and humans. They can transmit a

number of diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme

disease, and—in the case of the female wood tick—something called

tick paralysis. As unsavory as they are, ticks are remarkable

parasites that can live for years. They wait patiently for a host

to pass by, then leap onto it. Within a few hours, the tick

attaches itself to the host by burrowing its head into the skin,

engorging itself with blood. They can feed for a few hours or a few

weeks (go ahead and say it—yuck), then drop off the host to lay

thousands of eggs. They are categorized as hard ticks or soft

ticks, and each has its own unique way to turn your stomach.

Different ticks have distinct lifestyles that influence when

they’re most active. Most present a higher risk during warmer

months, but they’re a year-round threat in many places.


Ticks and Lyme Disease

It’s a common misconception that ticks cause Lyme disease. Ticks are vectors for the disease, meaning they carry it and transmit it, but they do not cause it. The disease is bacterial and can cause a range of symptoms. It was first seen in the United States in the 1970s, in the town of Lyme, Connecticut.

Causes of Lyme disease

According to a public health factsheet released by the Purdue University Extension, Lyme disease is carried by ticks, and affects people and pets alike. It is found across the United States, but 90 percent of all cases occur in the Mid-Atlantic states, and in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium with the scientific name Borrelia burgdorferi (the Lyme disease spirochete). Spirochetes are relatively large, spiral-shaped bacteria that are mobile and highly invasive. Following the bite of an infected tick, Lyme disease spirochetes initially multiply and disseminate in the skin surrounding the bite. If untreated, spirochetes can invade the blood stream, where they multiply and cause flu-like symptoms. Eventually, spirochetes may invade other parts of the body such as the nervous system, heart muscle and large joints, where they multiply and produce a variety of disease symptoms … ”

Ticks that are carriers

There are multiple species of ticks that carry the bacteria, and «do all ticks carry Lyme disease» is a common question. In fact, only a few species are known to pass it along to humans. Of the ticks that carry Lyme disease, the blacklegged tick, also called a deer tick or Lyme disease tick, is the worst offender. According to a Lyme disease factsheet released by the Pennsylvania State University Extension, it is this type of tick, and two of its relatives, that are proven to be vectors for the disease’s transmission to humans.

“The larval and nymphal stages of the tick are no bigger than a pinhead (less than 2 mm). Adult ticks are only slightly larger. Research in the eastern United States has indicated that, generally, ticks transmit Lyme disease to humans during the nymphal stage, probably because nymphs are rarely noticed on a person’s body due to their small size. Thus, the nymphs typically have ample time to feed and transmit the infection (ticks need at least 24 to 36 hours to transmit the infection). Ticks search for host animals from the tips of grasses and shrubs and transfer to animals or persons who brush against vegetation. They usually attach themselves in areas that are more hidden or hairy, such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. However, ticks can attach under watch bands and waistbands, and in many other body locations. Ticks feed on blood by inserting their mouthparts into the skin of a host animal. They are slow feeders: a complete blood meal can take 3 to 5 days. Although in theory Lyme disease could spread through blood transfusions or other contact with infected blood or urine, no such transmission has been documented.”

Not all ticks pose a threat

Just because there are blacklegged ticks in an area does not mean that Lyme disease bacteria are also present. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s information sheet on ticks, there are several factors that must align for a blacklegged tick to transmit Lyme disease.

“This tick is widely distributed in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States. I. scapularis larvae and nymphs feed on small mammals and birds, while adults feed on larger mammals and will bite humans on occasion. It is important to note that the pathogen that causes Lyme disease is maintained by wild rodent and other small mammal reservoirs, and is not transmitted everywhere that the blacklegged tick lives. In some regions, particularly in the southern U.S., the tick has very different feeding habits that make it an unlikely vector in the spread of human disease.”

If you have been in an area where blacklegged ticks are present and you begin to feel ill, call a medical professional and ask about Lyme disease. Ticks are more active in summer months. If you are seeing ticks on family pets, it may be time to call a pest management professional to discuss your options.


Do Ticks Hibernate During Winter?

Maine winters can be brutal. From monster Nor’Easters to temperatures that would even make a polar bear shiver, it takes the heartiest of people and critters to survive the long winter months. Maine is known for our lobsters and moose, and our state bird, the mosquito, but while mosquitoes and other insects don’t survive the winter, perhaps the most worrisome pest has been.

Here at the clinic, we don’t need to consult any big studies or statistics to discover that ticks are prominent, even during our harsh winters; the amount of phone calls and questions in the exam rooms are enough to support it. With several species of ticks taking residence in Maine, they’ve adapted quite well to our changing seasons.

Closer To Home

Years ago if you were actively seeking out ticks, a trek deep into the woods or a sea of tall grass are the places you would need to go. Now we’re finding them right in our front yards. Ticks actively seek out moisture, which is why you may notice more of them during or after a period of rain, or notice them burrowing into brush and leaf piles.

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Once the snow flies, it was believed that ticks would either go into a state of hibernation or die off. This does not seem to be the case, though, since many pet owners continue to find ticks on their animals even with several inches of snow on the ground. The snow acts as a blanket for these parasites, keeping them nice and insulated. Recent studies have also suggested that ticks that carry Anaplasmosis are more likely to survive in the winter. The Anaplasmosis serves as a natural anti-freeze, making the tick problem in Maine that much scarier. Once there is any sort of thawing or melting, they re-emerge ready for dinner.

A live look into the snowy lives of Maine ticks.

Minimizing The Risk

So what can you do to minimize your pet’s risk (and yours too!) of getting exposed to tick-borne illnesses? Below are some helpful hints:

  • Keep yard free of leaves and brush
  • Do regular tick checks every time you come in from outside
  • Keep your dog up to date on their Lyme vaccine
  • Treat your pet with flea and tick preventatives year round

Unfortunately there isn’t a vaccine for Anaplasmosis or Ehrlichiosis, but the best way to protect your pet from these illnesses is flea and tick preventatives. Have an indoor only animal? We suggest they be on preventatives as well since ticks (and fleas) like to hitch a ride on you or another pet to where it’s nice and warm, like your living room.

The thought of having to combat ticks during the winter is pretty daunting, especially when it’s not something we’ve ever had to be conscious of. But the tick population has taken up residence in Maine and it doesn’t look like they plan on taking the winters off anytime soon.

For more information about ticks, please check out the following resources:


‘Every season is tick season’: Experts warn of winter Lyme disease risk

Social Sharing

People have ‘let their guard down’ and aren’t checking for ticks as weather cools, says zoologist

Laurenne Schiller loves taking her dog Cousteau for walks along Halifax trails as the weather cools.

But even after the first dusting of snow this week, each walk finishes with a head-to-toe check for blacklegged ticks on her and her collie.

«Talking to other dog owners, people have said they will pick 12 or 15 [ticks] off their dog in an hour-long walk on the trails here,» she said.

Schiller now keeps her furry companion on tick medication year-round.

Bit while Christmas tree shopping

Experts say there is a common misconception that you can’t get Lyme disease in the winter because people believe ticks are no longer active.

«We have this false sense that once it’s getting cold, that we’re safe. But that’s no longer the case,» said Donna Lugar, the Nova Scotia representative for the advocacy group the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation.

«Even after snow, even after a cold snap, if the temperature does go up, [blacklegged ticks] can be active,» she said.

Lugar, who has Lyme disease, said she is being contacted increasingly by people who’ve contracted the disease in the middle of winter.

«A few years ago, someone was bit while they were in a Christmas tree farm lot picking out their Christmas tree. They ended up being quite ill,» she said.

Symptoms similar to flu

Lugar said the risk of misdiagnosis is also greater in the winter because it’s flu season.

Since the symptoms of Lyme disease can appear flu-like, people might think they’ve caught influenza when they’ve been bitten by a tick that carries Lyme disease, she said.

According to the province’s health department, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease has been increasing since the first case was reported in 2002. In 2015 there were 247 cases, and in 2016 there were 326.

Andrew Hebda, a zoologist at the Nova Scotia Museum, said he’s receiving about 150 ticks every week from medical offices across the province for identification.

That’s more ticks this time of year than he was sent during what is known as the peak season in June and July.

He said more than half the ticks he’s seeing now have fed or completely fed, which means they were likely on the person for more than 24 hours.

«People have let their guard down and haven’t been doing the tick checks as diligently,» he said.

While the general rule is that ticks are active above 4 C, Hebda said there can be warmer pockets of ground that will allow ticks to be active even in cooler temperatures.

«They’re active all winter,» he said. «We’ve got ticks being brought in every month of the year.»


Entomology Today

Brought to you by the Entomological Society of America

Mice Aren’t Nice, They Help Transmit Lyme Disease

By Hannah Foster

Upon hearing the words “Lyme disease,” most people think of two things: ticks and deer. Although these are certainly important aspects of the disease, ticks and deer are only two pieces of the puzzle. Lyme disease is actually extremely complicated, and its spread is affected by a wide range of organisms. Knowing the full story is important for individuals to protect themselves, and it’s necessary for scientists and epidemiologists to determine how to control the disease.

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, with around 300,000 cases per year, mainly in the Northeast. It causes flu-like symptoms, and, if left untreated, can result in serious chronic symptoms like arthritis, neurological problems, cardiac arrhythmia, and cognitive defects. The disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried and transmitted to humans by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), also known as the deer tick.

A primary strategy for controlling the spread of Lyme disease has been to decrease the deer population. Deer are one of the main hosts of the blacklegged tick, so it makes sense that reducing the deer population would also diminish the tick population, consequently limiting the spread of Lyme disease. The problem is, it’s more complicated than that, and other animals play a part in addition to the deer.

Stages of the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis): egg, larva, nymph, adult. The nymphs are the most dangerous because they can go undetected for days, which means there’s a stronger chance of them transmitting Lyme disease. Photo by Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org.

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The blacklegged tick has a two-year life span that is divided into three main developmental stages: larva, nymph, and adult. A blacklegged tick requires a bloodmeal in every one of these stages, and each of these bloodmeals provides an opportunity for the tick to contract or spread B. burgdorferi.

Bloodmeal 1 (larvae): Tick may contract B. burgdorferi
Mother ticks cannot pass B. burgdorferi on to the 2,000 eggs they lay in the spring. Thus, when ticks hatch into larvae in the summer, they are un-infected. To move on to the next stage of life, a tick larva must find a source of blood for its first meal. The larva’s preferred meal at this stage comes from a common rodent called the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus), but it may also feed on other small mammals or birds. If the animal on which a larva feeds is infected with B. burgdorferi, the larva can become infected as well and will be able to transmit the disease to animals that it bites in the future. An important note is that humans and other large mammals are not considered carriers of B. burgdorferi like certain small animals. Levels of bacteria sufficient to infect ticks cannot be found in human or deer blood. Thus, since the tick cannot infect its eggs with B. burgdorferi, the bacteria depend on small animals like the white-footed mouse to act as reservoirs of the disease. It is only from these carriers that the disease can be picked up and spread by the tick vector.

Bloodmeal 2 (nymphs): Infected tick may spread disease to new host
After its bloodmeal, the larva falls off its host and molts into a nymph, which will remain dormant throughout the winter. In the spring, the nymph becomes active and must eat again. If the nymph was already infected during its first meal as a larva, it can now transmit B. burgdorferi to its new host. Usually, this second bloodmeal is also from the white-footed mouse or another small animal, but sometimes it’s from a human.

This nymphal stage is the most dangerous for humans. Most adult ticks are so large that they are quickly noticed and removed before B. burgdorferi can be spread because a tick usually must be attached to its host for at least 36 hours to spread the disease. Tick nymphs, on the other hand, are only about the size of a poppy seed, so they can easily go unnoticed by humans for days.

Tick life cycle and the transmission of Lyme disease. Image from the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases.

Bloodmeal 3 (adults): Infected tick may infect new host with B. burgdorferi
After taking its second bloodmeal in May, June, or July, nymphs molt into adult females and males. These ticks become active in the fall, which surprises many people who assume they’d be killed off by frosts. While adult ticks may be inactive when temperatures are freezing, they can become active and will seek a host when not frozen or covered by snow. Adult blacklegged ticks feed on larger mammals, most commonly on white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The tick mates on the deer and then the female drops off and lays her eggs. Deer are considered to be the main reproductive host for blacklegged ticks, but they can also bite humans and their pets. If they are infected with B. burgdorferi, they can transmit the disease to humans at this stage.

So How Do We Reduce Lyme Disease Cases?

The tick life cycle and populations are tightly intertwined with the spread of Lyme disease, and ticks need small mammals like white-footed mice to become infected. We also know that adult ticks prefer to feed on deer, so they play a role too. Culling deer herds has been shown to help, but an integrated approach is even better — one that involves removing some deer while treating the remaining ones with acaricides (pesticides that kill ticks). A device called the 4-Poster Deer Treatment Bait Station is one way of applying acaricides to deer.

Exterminating all of the white-footed mice would be neither practical, nor environmentally friendly. Plus, it is unlikely to be effective, since the ticks would simply find another host, such as chipmunks or birds. However, there are ways to treat the mice with acaricides as well. One method that can be utilized by homeowners involves providing nesting material for mice that contains an acaricide. When the mice build nests out of the material, they are exposed to the chemical and ticks that feed on them will die.

Tick Tubes® are cardboard tubes filled with permethrin-treated cotton balls. Mice collect the cotton to build their nests. Ticks that feed on mice are exposed to the permethrin and killed.

Another product lures mice into small boxes that brush them with insecticide. More creative methods of tick control, such as the use of microscopic roundworms or fungi to infect and kill ticks, are also under investigation.

On a smaller scale, there are steps individuals can take to protect themselves from Lyme disease:

– Be aware when entering rural areas that may have dense tick populations. Suburban backyards and even semi-urban parklands are just some of the more common settings where these ticks are found.
– In the summer, wear insect repellent in your shoes and clothing, especially from May through July. Even wearing treated light summer clothing can be effective and protective.
– In cooler weather, wear long pants and insect repellent. Tucking your pants into your socks will not win you any fashion awards, but it will offer extra protection because ticks tend to crawl up from the ground.
– Thoroughly check yourself for ticks when you come in from the outdoors.
– Remove any ticks as soon as possible.
– See a doctor if you develop a fever or a rash.

Hopefully, with increasing public awareness and more creative techniques to control tick populations, we will begin to see a decrease in Lyme disease cases. Until then, medical entomologists are invaluable for shedding light on this convoluted disease and for determining how best to fight it.


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