Skip to main content

Be On the Lookout for Ticks

Dark brown tick with a white shield behind the head.
Figure 1. Female American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). Courtesy: Gary Alpert, Harvard University,

Originally Submitted: April 29, 2021

With spring now well under way, arthropod activity is on the increase. Ticks are one of the first pests to show up, and they can be a nuisance as well, as a human health concern. They require blood to fulfill their nutritional needs, and most species carry bacterial diseases.

Although tick development and survival is favored during wet springs, they will still be present through the current drought in much of the state.

    Ticks in South Dakota

    Two brown ticks, one with white patterns on the body and the other with a white shield behind the head.
    Figure 2. Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) male (left) and female (right). Courtesy: Mat Pound, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

    Common ticks found in South Dakota include the American dog tick (Figure 1), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Figure 2), and blacklegged tick (Figure 3). These ticks are known vectors of bacterial diseases, such as tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The blacklegged tick, or deer tick, can transmit Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.

    There have also been isolated observations of the lonestar tick (Amblyomma americanum) in South Dakota (Figure 4). This species is capable of transmitting alpha-gal sugar, which can result in the development of alpha-gal syndrome. Alpha-gal syndrome is an allergic reaction that occurs after consuming red meat.

      Preventing Tick Bites

      Reddish-orange tick with dark brown legs, head, and shield behind the head.
      Figure 3. Female blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis). Courtesy: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

      Ticks are most abundant in tall grass, forested areas and near water, such as lakes or wetlands. When going outdoors, consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and long socks with shoes. This will prevent ticks from latching onto your skin if you come in contact with them. Furthermore, wearing light-colored clothing will make it easier to spot any ticks that crawl on you. Ticks can also be warded off by applying an insect repellent that is labeled for ticks. Repellants containing permethrin may be sprayed onto clothes and shoes to repel ticks through multiple outings.

      After being outdoors, you should check yourself for ticks that may have gotten onto your body. Common places to check include the scalp, ears, underarms, back, waist, belly button, pelvic area and legs. If a crawling tick is observed, immediately remove and dispose of it. When disposing of a tick, make sure to thoroughly crush it before flushing or discarding in the trash. Ticks have very sturdy exoskeletons, and you may need to use a tool, such as pliers, to effectively kill them. It is also important to note that, as juveniles, ticks can be very small and aren’t as easy to spot.

        Removing an Embedded Tick

        Reddish-brown tick with a white spot in the center of the body.
        Figure 4. Female Lonestar tick (Amblyomma americanum). Courtesy: Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS PPQ,

        If a tick is left on the body for an extended period of time, it will eventually embed itself into the skin and begin feeding. Embedded ticks should be removed promptly, but carefully to avoid squeezing them. Squeezing can expel the contents of the tick into the wound, which greatly increases the chances of contracting a tick-borne disease.

        To safely remove an embedded tick, first grasp the tick with pointy tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Next, pull the tick straight out with slow, steady force. Once the tick is removed, disinfect the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. If you would like to have the tick identified, bring it to your healthcare provider in rubbing alcohol or in a sealed container. If you are concerned about a tick bite or develop other symptoms after the bite, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

        Additional Resources:

        Related Topics

        Garden & Yard Issues