What ticks look like

There are 16 different kinds of ticks in Nova Scotia, but only two types frequently bite people: dog ticks and blacklegged ticks.

Blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks, can carry the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that cause Lyme disease. Blacklegged ticks are very small (smaller than dog ticks), and their looks change during their life cycle.

The larvae and nymphs (baby and teenager stage ticks) are roughly the size of a poppy seed or sesame seed when fed.

Figure 1: From right to left: An engorged adult deer tick, an adult before attaching to the skin, an engorged nymph (young tick), a nymph before it has attached. Both adults and nymphs can transmit Lyme disease.
Photograph courtesy of Frederick Dubs, RBP, Johns Hopkins University

Don’t let their small size fool you.

A small blacklegged tick might at first look like a harmless freckle, skin tag or a bit of dirt. But even small ticks, like these, can infect you with Lyme disease.

Relative size of a blacklegged tick nymph.

Adult ticks are much larger than larvae and nymphs, and the female is reddish orange in colour when unfed. Females grow to the size of a small grape as they engorge on blood and darken in colour during the feeding process. 


Unfed, partially fed and fully engorged nymphs of the blacklegged tick. Note the change in size and colour.

Unlike adult dog ticks, blacklegged ticks do not have white markings on their backs. And dog ticks are typically larger than blacklegged ticks.

Like most types of ticks, the bite of a blacklegged tick is usually painless, so it’s easy not to feel them biting.  

It may be difficult to tell the difference between a dog tick and a blacklegged tick. So, if you have spent time outdoors, it is important to carefully check your skin and clothing when you get home. Do a thorough tick check on yourself, your partner, children, pets and clothing. Pay special attention to pets or small children who may have wandered into suitable tick habitat, like wooded or grassy areas.

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