Ticks are tiny predators who feast on blood. Some species spread Lyme disease and other life-threatening diseases. Knowing how to identify tick species is the first step toward preventing and managing the diseases they spread. No tick is beneficial, but knowing the difference between disease-spreading species and those that are not harmful can help you avoid costly treatments at a vet’s or doctor’s office.
Look closely at the tick to determine if there is a head. Ticks are divided into two groups: hard ticks, which have heads, and soft ticks, which do not. Generally, soft ticks do not transmit diseases to humans or animals.
Observe the size of the tick. The deer tick, which can carry Lyme disease, is so tiny that it looks like a speck of black pepper. Its size makes it difficult to observe a head or any other distinguishing features. The American dog tick, which is found on animals and humans, is 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch wide when fully engorged with blood.
Look for any markings on the body of the tick. The lone star tick, which can transmit tularemia, has one or more distinctive white specks on the back of its black body.
Study any other features of the tick’s body. If the rear of the tick appears to be made up of small squares and the body has silver-white markings on it, you are probably looking at the common American dog tick.
Look at the mouth of the tick. If the mouth is long and narrow, you might be looking at the fearsome deer tick. If the mouth is thick and short, you might have a brown dog tick on your hands.