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Black-legged Tick (Ixodes scapularis)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Black-legged Tick



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The Black-legged Tick is an arachnid with a bite that can do more damage than most spiders.



Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The Black-legged Tick is a carrier of Lyme disease and transmits it to humans. This arachnid picks up the Lyme disease-causing bacteria by feeding on mice and deer. It is during feeding that the Lyme Disease-causing bacteria can pass from the tick into the host (deer, human, mouse, etc.). The longer the tick has to feed, the greater the opportunity for the bacteria to transfer and infect. Because of this, the Center for Disease Control encourages those who find ticks on themselves to remove them as soon as possible. Because the infecting vector may be in the feeding tube, even if the tick is crushed or decapitated, it may still transmit the bacteria. Complete removal of the tick's head and feeding tube within 24 hours of the initial bite can reduce possible infection according to the CDC. If you have been bitten by a Black-legged Tick, seek medical attention and get tested for Lyme Disease. Early diagnosis of Lyme Disease improves treatment effectiveness and symptom management.

Commonly found in the Eastern United States, the Black-legged Tick adult sits on low plant vegetation (shrubs, ferns, flowers) until a potential host animal walks by. With its front legs outstretched, it clings onto whatever it can: fur, tail, clothing, etc. It then crawls to warmer parts of the body because blood is closer to the surface in those areas. It bites the victim without pain because its saliva has an anesthetic chemical in it that numbs the bite site. A barbed feeding tube helps keep it latched on more securely. It draws a blood meal from the host until it is engorged with blood, and its abdomen more than doubles in size, turning redder in color. Ticks may feed on the same host for days. Not all tick bites leave a red ring around the wound, but the presence of one may indicate a bite.

All Ticks are arachnids, not insects. They have eight legs, so counting legs of a creature crawling on you can aid in identifying them quickly. Males appear dark brown or even black, while females feature red-orange coloring. Tick nymphs are most active during the spring and summer months, when a majority of potential hosts are also most active.




Known Diet of the Black-Legged-Tick



mammal blood


General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Insect biting icon
Harmful insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Arachnida
      Order: Acari
        Family: Ixodidae
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          Genus: Ixodes
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            Species: scapularis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Ixodes scapularis
Other Name(s): Deer Tick
Category: Mite or Tick
Size (Adult; Length): 3mm to 4mm (0.11" to 0.15")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; red; black
Descriptors: biting, harmful, 8 legs
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 3mm and 4mm
Lo: 3mm
Md: 3.5mm
Hi: 4mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Black-legged 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 Black-legged Tick. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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