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University of Minnesota Extension


Quick facts

  • The two most common ticks found by humans are:
    • American dog tick, Dermacenter variablis, or wood tick.
    • Blacklegged tick, Ixodes variablis (formerly known as deer tick), which carries Lyme disease and other diseases.
    • The brown dog tick is also found in Minnesota, but less commonly seen.
  • To avoid tick bites:
    • When in the woods, walk on trails and avoid moving through grassy areas.
    • Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants that are light-colored.
    • Use repellents like DEET or permethrin.
      • Always follow instructions and read warnings on repellent labels.
Location of the scutum on a female and male blacklegged tick

How to identify ticks

  • There are 13 known species of ticks in Minnesota.
  • Ticks can be very challenging to identify because of differences in size, gender, age (adult or immature) and whether they have been feeding.
  • Color can help, but don’t rely on this in all situations.
  • Engorged ticks are particularly challenging to identify as their size and color are greatly changed.
  • Adult females are larger than males.
  • Adult females have a relatively small scutum (plate-like structure on body) while the scutum in males covers most of their body.
  • If there is ever any doubt as to what species of tick you have encountered, send it to an expert for identification.
American dog ticks

American dog tick (wood tick)

  • Unfed adults are dark brown with whitish or yellowish markings.
  • On females these markings cover half of the body and, on males, nearly the entire body
  • These marking will be difficult to see on engorged ticks and is not present on immature ticks.

Blacklegged tick (formerly deer tick)

  • Adult female blacklegged ticks are reddish brown with a black head, legs and scutum.
  • Unfed adults don't have any markings on their bodies.
  • The presence or absence of marking will be difficult to see on engorged and immature ticks.

Life cycle

In general, the tick life cycle consists of egg, larva, nymph and adult. A larva has six legs, while nymphs and adults have eight legs.

They look very similar in all stages, although they are usually different colors. Ticks usually feed once in each stage before moving to the next.


Diseases carried by ticks

Female (right) and male blacklegged ticks

The American dog tick in Minnesota can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, though this is rare. For more information on Rocky Mountain spotted fever, see information at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease and several other diseases. See the Minnesota Department of Health page on tickborne diseases

High risk areas for tick exposure in Minnesota include the north central, east-central and southeastern regions of the state, also extending into some northwestern counties. Greatest risk is found within hardwood or mixed hardwood forests, which provide suitable habitat for blacklegged ticks.

Risk of bites from these ticks in Minnesota is highest during the spring, early summer, and fall months. Tickborne diseases have been increasing each year in the state. 

A blacklegged tick can only transmit disease to humans through a bite. They can't do so by just crawling on a person. Even when biting, a blacklegged tick must stay attached for at least 24 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease (12 to 24 hours to transmit human anaplasmosis).

If you want to find out for sure what type of tick you've found, you can fill out a form and send it and the tick to the health department for proper identification. This helps the state monitor where ticks are active.

Check this map to see where blacklegged ticks have been found in the state.


How to control ticks and prevent tickborne diseases

CAUTION: Mention of a pesticide or use of a pesticide label is for educational purposes only. Always follow the pesticide label directions attached to the pesticide container you are using. Be sure that the area you wish to treat is listed on the label of the pesticide you intend to use. Remember, the label is the law.

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension entomologist

Reviewed in 2019

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