The aggressive lone star tick, named for the white spot on the female’s back should scare the willies out of you. Its resume includes ehrlichiosis, tularemia, the heartland virus (luckily, this virus is rare) and alpha-gal syndrome—a frankly scary allergy to red meat. And while this might be new tick in town, it’s indigenous to the southern U.S.
Could it carry Lyme disease? Highly unlikely.
This tick is just a tad larger than the blacklegged tick. Like the blacklegged tick, it hangs out in brushy edge habitat and tall grass. It likes woodsy thickets, too. And just like the blacklegged tick, the newly-hatched larval lone star is disease-free—pure as the fallen snow. But as soon as it hatches, it’s out questing—looking for that essential blood meal it can’t live without.
Yet unlike blacklegged tick that, as larvae and nymphs, prefers to take its meals on wild mice and chipmunks, the lone star isn’t picky. Deer, coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, turkeys and, yes, our pets and us—if these hosts are already infected with the diseases the lone star tick carries, then those larvae are infected too. What defines “larvae” on the world of ticks? Note the six legs, unlike eight-legged nymphs and adults.
And the lone star has a loose life cycle. In the South, it’s usually a one (year) and done thing. In the North, this tick might not have gotten its requisite blood meal by the time winter blows in. So whatever stage it’s at, it just hunkers down in leaf litter and waits till spring. Also unlike the blacklegged adult, which is up and about anytime it gets into the mid-30s, the lone star tick favor balmy weather. For them, the 50s are more like it. And as always, the IPM mantra—prevention—is the way to go.
Other differences from the blacklegged tick? Well … it’s lots more aggressive. Imagine a tick that travels three times as fast as the blacklegged tick, has excellent vision, and hatches in stinging swarms that can put fire ants to shame.
Ah… I do so hate to leave you in suspense. But there’s more to come—next week. Same time (more or less), same place, same station.