What Do Ticks Look Like?

As the weather outside becomes warmer, more people start enjoying outdoor activities with their families and pets. During this time, however, New Yorkers should be cautious about the increasing risks of getting tick bites.

Part of being cautious is knowing what ticks look like and how to identify them.

If you or your pet has been bitten by a tick, it’s especially important to identify the type of tick. In fact, it’s highly recommended that you keep the tick in a bag or container and bring it to your healthcare provider or veterinarian to help them diagnose any symptoms that develop.

In less urgent situations, you can also take a picture of the specimen, send it to our free Pest ID Center, and have the tick experts at MMPC help identify it for you.

What Do Ticks Look Like?

Ticks are small, parasitic arachnids — a class of joint-legged invertebrates that also includes mites and spiders. The exact appearance, size, and color patterns of ticks may vary depending on their species and gender.

Before feeding, ticks look like small, wingless bugs with 8 legs and flat bodies that are shaped like ovals or teardrops. After latching on an unfortunate host, their bodies swell up and become several times larger depending on how much blood is ingested.

Only female ticks feed on hosts and spread disease. Male ticks can also bite, but they don’t engorge themselves like females do. They might attach themselves to a host and feed briefly before detaching themselves to wander off in search of a female to mate with. Therefore, most tick-borne diseases (such as Lyme disease) are transmitted by female ticks.

In the section below, we’ll explain the basic anatomy, size, shape, and color of ticks to help you understand what they look like and how to identify them.

Anatomy

  • 8 legs with many joints
  • Curved claws at the tip of each leg
  • No wings
  • No antennae
  • A small head called the capitulum
  • A prominent set of mouthparts consisting of palps, chelicerae and hypostome
  • An oval-shaped body called the idiosoma
  • A dark-colored, hardened plate on their back called the scutum

You can tell female ticks apart from male ticks by examining the scutum on their back. Female ticks have a relatively small scutum (covering only about 1/3 of their back), which allows their bodies to expand when feeding. Male ticks have a large scutum that covers their entire back.

Most ticks also have distinctive color patterns on the scutum which helps identify their species.

Size

  • Adult ticks are usually around 2-6 mm long.
  • Tick nymphs are between 1-2 mm long. 

After feeding, a female tick becomes engorged and its size can grow by several times (up to approximately 10-15 mm). By contrast, a male tick doesn’t increase in size after feeding.

Shape

  • Viewed from the top, ticks have an oval or teardrop shape.
  • Viewed from the side, ticks are flat (before feeding).
  • After feeding, female ticks take on a globular, engorged shape resembling a coffee bean.

Color

  • Depending on the species, the color of ticks can vary.
  • They can be black, brown, reddish-brown, gray, or yellow.

After feeding, female ticks may change colors in their engorged state. For example, an engorged deer tick turns reddish-brown or rust-colored, while an engorged dog tick turns gray or grayish-blue.

Common Ticks in New York

There are approximately 90 species of ticks in the United States, three of which are common in New York: the blacklegged tick (deer tick), the American dog tick, and the lone star tick.

What Do Blacklegged Ticks (Deer Tick) Look Like?

The blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick, is the smallest species of ticks in the United States, reaching only 3 mm as fully-grown adults (unfed).

This species can also be identified by its distinct color. Adult female blacklegged ticks have an orange-red body and a black scutum. Their legs are also dark, matching the color of their scuta.

The blacklegged (deer) tick is the only type of tick that transmits Lyme disease.

What Do American Dog Ticks Look Like?

The American dog tick, sometimes referred to as the wood tick, are larger than deer ticks and adult females can grow up to 5 mm in size (unfed).

This species can be recognized by the white markings on their bodies. Female American dog ticks have white markings primarily on their scuta, while males have white markings across their entire back. 

What Do Lone Star Ticks Look Like? 

Female lone star ticks can be identified by the conspicuous white or yellow spot on the middle of their backs. The males have smaller, less prominent markings around their festoons (the small areas separated by grooves located on the back end of the tick).

Where Can You Find Ticks?

Ticks prefer cooler areas where trees, brushes, leaves, and tall grasses provide cover from the sun. They typically avoid direct sunlight and heat.

When people (or pets) pass through, ticks may unknowingly latch on and crawl around till they find a spot to feed. 

Need Help Identifying Ticks?

Send a picture to our free Pest ID Center! The tick experts at MMPC can help determine what type of tick you found.