Do Ticks Bite in Winter?

Tick on a finger.
Some ticks look for blood hosts on warm winter days. Getty Images/Photolibrary/Lauree Feldman

Heading outdoors in January? Don't forget your DEET! While winter weather may mean most bugs are dormant, there's one important arthropod you should still take steps to avoid. Blood-sucking, disease-carrying ticks may still be active in winter months.

Some Ticks Bite in the Winter

Some ticks do bite in winter. Generally speaking, as long as temperatures stay below 35° F, ticks remain inactive. On warmer days, however, ticks may be out looking for a blood meal.

If the ground isn't completely covered with snow and soil temperatures reach 45° F, ticks will likely search for blood hosts, including you or your pet.

If you live in an area where winters are mild, you should definitely be concerned about protecting yourself from ticks year-round. But even in regions where winters can be harsh, you should keep ticks in mind when going outdoors on milder winter days. While dog ticks are rarely seen after the first frost of the year, deer ticks are known for coming to life on those milder winter days.

What Are Ticks and How Do They Find You?

Ticks are arthropods in the class Arachnida, the arachnids. Ticks and mites are cousins of spiders, scorpions, and daddy longlegs. But while most other arachnids are predators or scavengers, ticks are blood-sucking ectoparasites. Some tick species live in close proximity to their hosts, and complete their entire life cycle on that host species.

Others, including most ticks that feed on humans, will take bloodmeals from different species during each stage of their life cycle.

Ticks locate potential hosts by detecting movement and carbon dioxide. Ticks cannot jump, fly, or swim. They use a technique called questing to locate and attach to a blood host.

When searching for a blood meal, a tick will position itself on vegetation and assume a stance that allows it to immediately grab onto any passing warm-blooded animal.

Why You Should Protect Yourself from Ticks (Even in the Winter)

Ticks are remarkably effective at transmitting diseases to their hosts, unfortunately. Among arthropods, only mosquitoes carry and transmit more human diseases than ticks. Tick-borne diseases can be difficult to diagnosis and treat. Ticks carry bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, all of which can make their way into your body when a tick feeds on your blood.

Diseases transmitted by ticks in North America include: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Powassan virus, American boutonneuse fever, tularemia, Colorado tick fever, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, relapsing fever, and tick paralysis.

How to Protect Yourself from Ticks and Tick Bites in the Winter

If air temperatures rise above 35° F, you should take precautions to avoid tick bites, just as you do in summer months. Use a tick repellant as directed, wear long pants and tuck your pant legs into your socks, and do a thorough check for ticks as soon as you return indoors.

Pets that go outdoors can carry ticks back home, too.

A recent study funded by Cornell University suggests that deer ticks rely on leaf litter to insulate themselves from the cold during the winter months. Raking your leaves in the fall and eliminating leaf litter from your yard may help reduce the population of ticks in your yard and protect your pets and your family from tick bites in the winter.

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    Hadley, Debbie. "Do Ticks Bite in Winter?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 19, 2016, thoughtco.com/do-ticks-bite-in-winter-1968604. Hadley, Debbie. (2016, December 19). Do Ticks Bite in Winter? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/do-ticks-bite-in-winter-1968604 Hadley, Debbie. "Do Ticks Bite in Winter?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/do-ticks-bite-in-winter-1968604 (accessed November 21, 2017).