Facts About Ticks in Connecticut
Deer ticks, or black-legged ticks, are a fact of life here in Danbury, CT, and surrounding areas. In fact, recent research and publications indicate that tick populations and the diseases they transmit are on the rise in Connecticut.
On this page, we share the latest details about ticks, tick-borne diseases, and tick control in Connecticut. Just click on a topic in the Table of Contents below to be taken directly to that section of the page.
Types of Ticks Found in Connecticut
In Connecticut, there are three major tick species that are known to carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. We're also seeing new ticks moving into our state.
Deer Tick aka Blacklegged Tick (Ixodes scapularis) - This is the most commonly-seen tick and is responsible for transmitting Borrelia burgdorferi and B. mayonii (which cause Lyme disease), Anaplasma phagocytophilum (anaplasmosis), B. miyamotoi disease (a form of relapsing fever), Ehrlichia muris eauclairensis (ehrlichiosis), Babesia microti (babesiosis), and Powassan virus (Powassan virus disease). The greatest risk of being bitten by a deer tick is in the spring, summer, and fall. However, adults may be out searching for a host any time winter temperatures are above freezing. Stages most likely to bite humans are nymphs and adult females.
American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis) - This tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia but cases are rare in CT. Dogs are the primary host for this tick in each of its life stages, but the tick may also bite humans or other mammals.
Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum) - This tick is rarely seen in Connecticut (it's more common nearer to Long Island Sound) but is known to transmit Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii (which cause human ehrlichiosis). It's a very aggressive tick that bites humans. The adult female is distinguished by a white dot or “lone star” on her back. Lone star tick saliva can be irritating; redness and discomfort at a bite site does not necessarily indicate an infection. The nymph and adult females most frequently bite humans and transmit disease.
Asian Longhorned Tick - As of February, 2020, this non-native tick has been found in Connecticut. Compared to the other three ticks commonly found in CT, it doesn't appear to be as attracted to humans. We also don't know if it will transmit disease (it doesn't appear to contribute to the spread of Lyme disease) but in other countries, germs spread via bites from these ticks can make people and animals seriously ill.
Where Ticks Are Found
While we often think of ticks being found in wooded areas and parks, they're also present in even the most perfectly manicured yard - even if you can't see them.
Some common activities that may expose you to tick bites include the following:
- children playing outside
- yard work and gardening
- wood cutting
- property maintenance
- picnicking (including dining in your own back yard)
- trail bike riding
- animal husbandry
- dog walking
How Ticks Spread
Many ticks are carried by deer, so as deer populations continue to increase so do the number of ticks. (If you're worried about deer damage to your yard or the ticks that come with them, here are some tips to keep deer away.)
Ticks are also carried by rodents, such as woodchucks, squirrels, white-footed mice, and voles, as well as on you and your pets.
How Ticks Find Their Next "Meal"
Ticks find their hosts (the animals on which they feed) by detecting breath and body odors, or by sensing body heat, moisture, and vibrations. Some species can even recognize a shadow.
In addition, ticks pick a place to wait by identifying well-used paths. They then wait for a host to pass by, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs.
Ticks can’t fly or jump, but many tick species wait in a position known as “questing”. While questing, ticks hold onto leaves and grass by their third and fourth pair of legs. They hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb on to the host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard. Some ticks will attach quickly and others will wander, looking for places like the ear, or other areas where the skin is thinner.
How Ticks Spread Disease
Ticks transmit pathogens that cause disease through the process of feeding.
- Depending on the tick species and its stage of life, preparing to feed can take from 10 minutes to 2 hours. When the tick finds a feeding spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface.
- The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached during the meal. The feeding tube can have barbs which help keep the tick in place.
- Ticks also can secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so that the animal or person can’t feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed.
- A tick will suck the blood slowly for several days. If the host animal has a bloodborne infection, the tick will ingest the pathogens with the blood.
- Small amounts of saliva from the tick may also enter the skin of the host animal during the feeding process. If the tick contains a pathogen, the organism may be transmitted to the host animal in this way.
- After feeding, most ticks will drop off and prepare for the next life stage. At its next feeding, it can then transmit an acquired disease to the new host.
Tick-Borne Diseases Found In Connecticut
The biggest worry with ticks is that they can transmit debilitating diseases. If you don't take any preventive measures in tick-infested areas of Connecticut, it's highly likely that you'll contract a tick-borne disease, particularly Lyme disease.
Ticks in Connecticut carry a variety of disease-causing agents, including bacteria, protozoa, and rickettsia. Recently, a new and emerging viral infection, the Powassan Virus (POWV), has also been found in CT ticks.
The diseases known to have been transmitted in Connecticut are:
- Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi),
- Human granulocytic anaplasmosis (Anaplasma phagocytophilum),
- Babesiosis (Babesia microti),
- Ehrlichosis (Ehrlichia chaffeensis),
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (Rickettsia rickettsii),
- Powassan encephalitis (POWV), and
- hard tick relapsing fever (Borrelia miyamotoi).
While the number of human cases of some of these diseases in Connecticut is low, infection with any of these tick-borne illnesses may have serious consequences. There are also reports of people being infected with more than one disease at once, leading to even more serious outcomes.
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How to Protect Yourself From Tick Bites
Most of the recommendations about protecting yourself from ticks come down to basic common sense. Here are the top recommendations:
- know where ticks are apt to be
- wear light-colored clothing while outdoors
- use insect repellents as appropriate
- check your clothing and any items you're carrying before entering your home
- shower after being outdoors, especially in areas with known tick problems
- look yourself over carefully for any attached ticks when you come indoors
- immediately remove ticks when you find them on yourself
This advice is well-summarized in a very helpful, straight-forward manner by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC’s webpage on ticks includes links to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) web page on Tick-Borne Diseases. This page includes a link to the NIOSH Fast Fact card on protecting yourself from ticks and mosquitoes.
How to Create a Tick-Safe Zone in Your Yard
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has developed a comprehensive Tick Management Handbook pdf icon[PDF – 84 pages]external icon for preventing tick bites. Here are some simple landscaping techniques that can help reduce blacklegged tick populations:
- Remove leaf litter.
- Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
- Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
- Mow the lawn frequently.
- Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents).
- Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
- Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences.
- Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.
How To Know If a Tick Bite May Have Transmitted Disease
Ticks need to feed for nearly 40 hours to transmit the causative organisms of Lyme disease to humans. For anaplasmosis and babesiosis, times vary a bit from that.
Generally speaking, if you find a tick quickly and it isn't engorged, it probably hasn't been attached long enough to pose a risk of infection. Male ticks rarely and only briefly engage in blood-feeding and have not been documented to transmit pathogens.
The CT Agricultural Experiment Station manages a “tick testing laboratory” where members of the public may bring ticks to for identification and testing to see whether they are carrying specific tick-borne diseases.
In Lyme disease, a rash is usually the first sign of infection. It's usually a circular rash called erythema migrans or EM (or, more commonly, a "bullseye" rash). The rash may appear within 3-30 days, typically before the onset of fever. This rash occurs in approximately 70-80% of infected persons and begins at the site of a tick bite. It may be warm, but is not usually painful. Some patients develop additional EM lesions in other areas of the body several days later.
When to Apply Tick Spray in Connecticut
Most Lyme infections occur in spring, which is why we recommend starting your tick control program in spring. We typically apply tick control treatments every 6 weeks or so. In the Danbury area, tick spraying usually starts in April.
The first visit in our tick control program takes place in April, with the goal of disrupting the egg-laying process among the adult ticks that have started to emerge and reducing the overall population. This will give you the best suppression results throughout the season.
However, if you don't get your tick program started in April, it's not too late. Starting later in the season will still give you effective tick suppression and reduce the incidence of tick bites.
Subsequent tick control visits suppress ticks at the larval, nymph, and adult growth stages, cutting down the total number of ticks and controlling adults before they have a chance to safely hide for the winter.
Where to Apply Tick Spray
To help eliminate ticks from your property, insecticides should be applied where ticks are most likely to be found -
- where the wood line meets the lawn,
- on perennial beds,
- in shaded areas and
- alongside trails and paths.
To minimize the impact on beneficial insect populations, focus applications on specific tick habitats. We recommend using high-pressure sprayers so the tick control pesticide penetrates into leaf litter, crevices, ground covers, woodpiles and other areas where ticks hide.
While there are some DIY or consumer-grade tick control options, the best results are achieved through professional tick control applications.
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