Tick Identification Resources

View a list of Ticks in New Jersey

blacklegged ticks J Occi
Figure 1. All of these are blacklegged ticks!

There are many misconceptions about different species of ticks. You may hear “if the tick is small, that means it’s a deer tick” or “if the tick is brown, it’s a dog tick.”

What this kind of advice fails to take into account is that all hard ticks have 3 life stages of varying size (larva, nymph, adult) and even within a life stage, there is natural variation in both size and color. Additionally, once a tick has started to feed it can grow to quite a large size.

American dog ticks
Figure 2. Both of these are adult female American dog ticks.

When identifying ticks,

  • Don’t go by size

  • Don’t go by color

What to do:

  • Do learn the basic tick body parts that are useful for ID

  • Do determine life stage and, for adults, whether male or female (some characters used for ID are not present in all life stages)

  • Do look at key characters (described below)


Basic Tick Morphology

American dog ticks
Figure 3. Image from Mathison, B. A. and Pritt, B. S. 2014. Laboratory Identification of Arthropod Ectoparasites. Clin Microbiol Rev 27(1):48

Tick Life Stages

Ticks have three active life stages: larva, nymph, and adult. Read more about the tick life cycle here

  • Larval ticks (below) only have 6 legs. All other stages have 8 legs.

American dog ticks
Figure 4. Only 6 legs in some life stages.

 

  • Adult males do not have an alloscutum. The alloscutum is the area that expands when ticks feed and become engorged with blood. Males do not become engorged. All other stages (larvae, nymphs, and females) have an alloscutum.

American dog ticks

Figure 5. End of scutum/start of alloscutum outlined in blue.
  • Larvae and nymphs do not have a genital pore. Adult males and females do.

American dog ticks

Figure 6. No genital pore on nymph.

 

Key Characters for ID of tick genera

  1. To separate individuals from the genus Ixodes from all other genera, look on the ventral side for the anal groove.

American dog ticks

Figure 7. Position of anal groove.

  1. If you do not have an Ixodes, the next step is to look at the length of the Palps relative to the Basis Capituli.

American dog ticks

Figure 8. Lengths of palps relative to basis capituli.

  1. If you do not have Ixodes or Amblyomma, look at whether the palps extend laterally. (Read more on identifying the longhorned tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, here).

American dog ticks

Figure 9. Lateral extension of the palps.

 

  1. If you do not have Ixodes, Amblyomma or Haemaphysalis, the next place to look is the shape of the Basis Capituli and whether it extends laterally.

American dog ticks

Figure 10. Shape of basis capituli and extensions.

These steps should allow you to separate the most common genera of hard ticks in NJ.


Other resources

Interactive Identification Key for Hard Ticks of the Eastern US (Georgia Southern University)

TickEncounter Identification Guide (University of Rhode Island)

Teaching Tick Morphology CD (Armed Forces Pest Management Board)


 

 


Center for Vector Biology