Let’s talk about Michigan ticks: 5 you should be familiar with, how to prevent a bite and what to do if you find one

Ticks can be active whenever the temperature is above freezing

Photo of two adult female blacklegged ticks on a hiking boot. (CDC)

Ticks are the reason I tuck my pants into tall socks when I go hiking.

Fall is just around the corner, but don’t let the changing seasons put you at ease. Ticks are active in the fall and searching for hosts -- they don’t go away in the winter either. Ticks can be active anytime the temperature is above freezing.

If you spend a lot of time outside, or have pets that like to play in your yard, then you’ll probably want to be aware of the different types of ticks in Michigan. Here’s a look at how to prevent them and what to do if you find one.

Read: More ‘Talk About Michigan’ coverage

Types of ticks commonly found in Michigan

American dog tick (wood tick)

Female American dog tick. Courtesy: CDC.
  • Where is it found: Widespread throughout Michigan in wooded and grassy areas.
  • Description: Large, brown ticks with ornate white markings.
  • Diseases they may carry: Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia

Blacklegged tick (deer tick)

Adult blacklegged ticks
  • Where is it found: Widespread throughout Michigan in wooded and grassy areas.
  • Description: Small tick with black legs. It has a round, black shield behind its head.
  • Diseases they may carry: Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, deer tick virus and Ehrlichia muris-like disease

Lone star tick

  • Where is it found: Rare in Michigan, but becoming more common. Usually found in wooded areas.
  • Description: The adult female has a “lone star” marking.
  • Diseases they may carry: Ehrlichiosis and tularemia

Woodchuck tick (groundhog tick)

Photo of a groundhog tick, Ixodes cookei. (CDC)
  • Where is it found: In the dens of wild animals.
  • Diseases they may carry: Powassan encephalitis

Brown dog tick (kennel tick)

This 2005 image depicted a male brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus from a dorsal view, looking down on this hard tick’s keratinized, shield-like scutum, which covered its entire back. However, in the female (PHIL 7641), the dorsal abdomen is only partially covered by the scutum, thereby, offering room for abdominal expansion during the ingesting her blood meal. (CDC/ James Gathany; William Nicholson)
  • Where is it found: This tick is able to breed and survive in indoor environments and in grassy brushy areas.
  • Description: This tick is often found in shelters, breeding facilities and dog kennels.
  • Diseases they may carry: Rocky mountain spotted fever, canine babesiosis, canine ehrlichiosis
Type of tickPercent of all ticks submitted in Michigan
American dog tick (wood tick)70%
Blacklegged tick (deer tick)20%
Lone star tick5%
Woodchuck tick3%
Brown dog tick (kennel tick)1%
Other tick species1%

Click here to view more information about identifying ticks from the CDC.

The life cycle of a tick

Most ticks go through four life stages: Egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph and adult.

According to the CDC, ticks need to eat blood at every stage to survive. Ticks can take up to three years to complete their full life cycle. Some tick species, like the brown dog tick, like to stay on the same host for all life stages. Blacklegged ticks can feed off mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians but needs a new host at every stage of its life.

Below is graphic that shows the lifecycle of a blacklegged tick:

The lifecycle of Ixodes pacificus ticks generally lasts three years. During this time, they go through four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. (CDC)

The image below shows a nymphal blacklegged tick feeding over 96 hours:

Photo demonstrating the stages of engorgement in a nymphal blacklegged tick over a period of 96 hours. (CDC)

At all stages of life ticks can bite humans, but nymphs and adult females are the ones most commonly found on humans. Larvae are the smallest life stage of tick that develop from eggs. For reference, blacklegged tick nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed. Nymphal and larval ticks are so small they may be hard to identify.

Zoomed in photo of a poppyseed muffin with five nymphal blacklegged ticks to demonstrate relative size. (CDC)

How to prevent tick bites

Ticks don’t just disappear in the winter. They can become active whenever the temperature rises above freezing. Ticks live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas -- or on animals. Many people get tick bites while in their own yard or neighborhood, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends using EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. Click here to use the EPA’s tool to find the insect repellent best suited for your needs.

You should avoid wooded and brushy areas, if you can, and stay in the center of trails when you’re hiking. You can also tuck your pants into your socks and use pants that have an elastic waistband as that can be more of a barrier for ticks. Light colored clothing also makes spotting ticks easier

Check your clothing for ticks when you’re done spending time outdoors. You can tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks that may be hiding on dry clothing. If the clothes have to be washed first the CDC recommends using hot water as cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks.

Showering within two hours of coming indoors can reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks, according to the CDC.

Where to check yourself for ticks:

  • In and around the ears
  • In and around the hair
  • Under the arms
  • Inside the belly button
  • Around the waist
  • Between the legs
  • Back of the knees

Where to check your pet for ticks:

  • In and around the ears
  • Around the tail
  • Around the eyelids
  • Under the collar
  • Under the front legs
  • Between the back legs
  • Between the toes

What to do if you find a tick

If you are able to you should put the tick in a small, clean and sealable container so that it can be identified.

Michigan residents and visitors can mail a tick or email photos of a tick to MDHHS EZID to get a tick identified for free. The state suggests using a small container, like a pill bottle, to store the tick and mail it.

MailMichigan Department of Health and Human Services
EZID Section
333 S Grand Avenue, 3rd Floor
PO Box 30195
Lansing, Michigan 48933
Notes:Write FRAGILE or HANDLE WITH CARE on the outside of the package.
EmailSend an email to MDHHS-Bugs@michigan.gov
Notes:Place the tick on a well-lit background. Take a picture as close to the tick as possible and make sure it isn’t blurry. Email two pictures with information on where you found the tick to the email address above.

How to remove a tick safely

You can use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal key (you can find these at most pet stores and outdoor stores) to remove the tick. You should grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.

If the tick’s mouthparts are still on the skin and can’t be removed easily you should leave the bite site alone to heal. Wash the bite site and your hands with soap and water and then use an antiseptic on the bite site.

Click here to learn more about how to submit a picture of a tick.

Red meat allergy (Alpha-gal Syndrome)

Alpha-gal Syndrome is a serious, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It can occur after people eat red meat or are exposed to other products containing alpha-gal. According to the CDC there is some evidence that the molecule that causes a red meat allergy can be found in the saliva of certain types of ticks.

Symptoms include a rash, hives, nausea or vomiting, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, dizziness or faintness, severe stomach pain. Symptoms usually occur between 3 to 6 hours after eating meat or products containing alpha-gal.

The CDC said there is “growing evidence” to suggest that AGS may be triggered by the bite of a lone star tick or blacklegged tick. They stressed that more research is needed to understand the role ticks play in triggering the reaction.

Read: Tick bites can trigger rare issue that makes people allergic to red meat, health experts say

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a skin rash. If it goes untreated it can spread to the joints, the heart and the nervous system.

Your healthcare provider can diagnose Lyme disease based on your symptoms, physical findings and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Most cases can be treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.

Data on tickborne diseases in Michigan


About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.