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Lyme disease continues to be the most frequently reported tick-borne disease contracted within the state of Massachusetts, followed by basesiosis and anaplasmosis. The black-legged tick species, also known as the “deer tick”, transmits all three of the above mentioned diseases to humans in Massachusetts, but the state is home to a few other disease-spreading tick species that are rarely mentioned by public health experts and entomologists. For example, many sources claim that only four disease-carrying tick species can be found within the state. These species include, the black-legged tick, the American dog tick, the brown dog tick and the lone star tick. However, officials with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention state that, in addition to these species, Massachusetts also contains Gulf Coast ticks and groundhog ticks, both of which have been documented as human disease vectors.

Larvae of Gulf Coast ticks feed on the blood of small rodents and birds, while adults feed on deer and many other mammalian species. Although these ticks are mainly known for biting animals, researchers have found that Gulf Coast ticks are also associated with the spread of Rickettsia parkeri Rickettsiosis in humans. Much like Gulf Coast ticks, groundhog ticks, also known as “woodchuck ticks”, prefer to feed on animals, particularly raccoons, skunks, squirrels, weasels and foxes. In some cases, these ticks also feed on the blood of humans and pets. Unlike Gulf Coast ticks, however, groundhog ticks collect blood-meals during all of their life stages, and they have been documented as spreading Powassan disease to humans.

It is well known that dog ticks spread disease to humans within Massachusetts, but a number of sources fail to mention that the state is home to two separate tick species that are both commonly referred to as “dog ticks”. One of these species, Dermacentor variabilis (AKA the American dog tick), is a primary vector for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and it also transmits tularemia to humans. The other “dog tick” species in Massachusetts is known as Rhipicephalus sanguineus (AKA the brown dog tick), and this species prefers to feed on the blood of dogs, but they will also settle for human blood-meals. The brown dog tick is only considered a disease threat to humans in the southwest US near the Mexico border where it spreads Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In the northeast, the brown dog tick transmits diseases to dogs and other animals, and unlike all other tick species, the brown dog tick can permanently inhabit indoor conditions, where they sometimes establish infestations. Luckily, the far more medically significant American dog tick species cannot survive indoors for more than 48 hours.

Have you ever found a tick, or several, within your home?