Common Ticks in Fairfax County

Tick activity is seasonal, with higher tick activity in the spring and summer. Ticks feed slowly and most likely will not transmit disease until they have been attached for several hours. Only infected ticks transmit disease and not all ticks are infected. Since there is no easy way to tell if a tick is infected, remove any attached ticks as soon as possible. While spending time outside, remember to check yourself for ticks and remove any that you find. Once you get home, do a more thorough check and remove any ticks that you find. The Fairfax County Health Department provides a free Tick Identification Service by Disease Carrying Insects Program staff.

There are the three tick species found in Fairfax County that can transmit disease to humans:

Thumbnail of tick ID chart - click to download Black-legged or Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis)

The unfed female black-legged ticks have a reddish body and a dark brown dorsal scutum located behind the mouthparts. Females are approximately 3.5 mm in length, much longer than the body of male ticks which range from 2.0 to 2.7 mm in length. Male black-legged ticks are dark brown in color. Nymphs of the black-legged tick are approximately 1.0 mm in length and will also feed on humans or other mammals and birds. The primary host of adult black-legged ticks is the white-tailed deer although they will feed on a variety of mammals and birds. Black-legged or deer ticks transmit the agents of Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis.

Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)

The female Lone Star tick has a characteristic white or yellow mark on the end of the scutum, from which the common name is derived. Both males and females are reddish brown in color and about 3.0 to 4.0 mm long. Tularemia and Ehrlichiosis are transmitted by this species. It has also been linked with a Lyme Disease-like illness called southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) which may be caused by the spirochete Borrelia lonestari. The Lone Star tick does not transmit the Lyme Disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. Lone Star ticks have a non-specific host preference and will seek blood meals from virtually any mammal. This is the most commonly found tick in Fairfax County.

American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

Adult American dog ticks are reddish brown in color and about 5.0mm in length. They can be distinguished from deer ticks on the basis of white markings on the perimeter of the dorsal scutum.Dogs (as the common name suggests) are the preferred hosts of adult American dog ticks but they will feed on other medium to large mammals including humans. The immature stages feed on small mammals, including meadow voles and white-footed mice. The American dog tick transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Tularemia  in the Eastern region of the United States.

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