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American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the American Dog Tick

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The American Dog Tick can be found across the continent on dogs, coyotes, bears and any other warm-bodied host that happens to walk by.

Updated: 05/15/2023; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Some ticks are notorious for carrying the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease in humans. The American Dog Tick is NOT one of them. It is not entirely harmless though. American Dog Ticks may carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia, two serious diseases that can adversely affect humans. Both list a high fever as a symptom, but individuals may vary in a variety of other symptoms connected to these illnesses. Bite wounds associated with Tularemia may form a skin ulcer (gaping wound). Both diseases can be successfully treated with antibiotics when diagnosed early, so it is important to contact a physician immediately if bitten.

Ticks are 8-legged arachnids though they are not spiders. They do not have wings and cannot fly, but they are adept at latching on to clothes, fur and hair that wisps past them within their reach. The American Dog Tick is also known as a Wood Tick. It happens to be spotted most often on dogs coming in from frolicking in the woods, so it has become most familiar as a parasite of that particular animal. The American Dog Tick, however, will feed on just about any animal it can hook its legs onto. After curling their legs around fabric or fur, the tick moves toward the skin. It then crawls to warmer parts of the body like armpits and inner thighs. There, it bites into the flesh while using a numbing agent in its saliva that renders the puncture imperceptible. It is then able to suck the blood from its host unhindered until it is fully engorged and more than double its original size.

Like all ticks, the American Dog Tick has life stages where its physical appearance slightly changes. The coloration changes from nymph stage to adulthood and is different between genders. One might mistake them all for different species. They also look different when they are empty versus engorged. Their wrinkly bodies can inflate like a balloon after a blood meal.©InsectIdentification.org

Known Diet of the American-Dog-Tick

animal blood
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General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Insect biting icon
Harmful insect icon
Rounded insect body icon


Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Ixodida
        Family: Ixodidae
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          Genus: Dermacentor
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            Species: variabilis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Dermacentor variabilis
Other Name(s): Wood Tick
Category: Mite or Tick
Size (Adult; Length): 2mm to 5mm (0.07" to 0.19")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: ivory; brown; red; black
Descriptors: tick; blood; round; slow; harmful; biting

American-Dog-Tick Video(s)

A hungry female American Dog Tick walking on a napkin.
American Dog Tick on tweezers after successfully being removed from a dog.

Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 2mm (0.1in) and 5mm (0.2in)
Lo: 2mm
Md: 3.5mm
Hi: 5mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the American Dog Tick may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the American Dog Tick. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.


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