Northern Illinois covers many popular cities in the USA including Chicago, Aurora, Naperville, and has many state run parks that include Rock Cut State Park, Moraine Hills State Park, etc. which have become the best tourist destinations. People come to Northern Illinois for many recreational leisure activities including kayaking, hiking, hunting, fishing, etc. This being the best part, people regret coming here due to the large number of tick populations in Northern Illinois. With changing climatic patterns, the tick population has further increased posing a threat to tourists and residencies in Northern Illinois. This blog focuses on the ticks in Northern Illinois, the type of prominent ticks in Northern Illinois, and how to protect yourself from the tick infections.
Are There Ticks In Illinois?
Yes. You will likely get a tick-borne disease if you go hiking or hunting along the river corridors and dense areas of Illinois. It shows the impact and increase of the population of ticks in Illinois. According to the University of Illinois, Illinois comprises nearly 15 tick species, including significant disease-causing ticks like deer ticks, lone star ticks, American dog ticks, brown dog ticks, and Gulf coast ticks.
Common Ticks In Illinois:
Deer ticks (Blacklegged tick):
The most common tick in northern Illinois is the Deer tick (black-legged tick). They are most abundant in the river corridors and the dense suburban areas of Illinois. The adult female deer tick is about one-eight inches (approx. 3 mm), and the male is smaller than the female, about one-sixteenth inches. The nymphs are tiny than 1 mm and unlike other hard ticks, the black-legged ticks do not have eyes or festoons. These ticks are dark black or brown. The scutum covers the female deer tick head and doesn’t cover the reddish abdomen region below the head. It allows the females to swell up in engorgement. The engorged female adult will be in gray. The male adult will be covered entirely by scutum in black or brown color.
Deer Tick- Lifecycle:
Deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) take two-three years to complete the life cycle. They have three stages of the lifecycle: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. In late spring (May), the female lays thousands of eggs. In the summer (June- August) and early fall (September), the eggs reach the six-legged larval stage. Larvae are most active during August. In this stage, the tick doesn’t carry the tick-borne disease pathogens. But they have a chance to take up pathogens from diseased hosts when they take their blood meal from them.
The larva fills with blood in the engorgement stage and molts into nymphs. The engorgement stage is the saturated state when the blood fills the tick’s body. Nymphs go through the same process of consuming blood from hosts. In this stage, they are more likely to spread tick-borne diseases. They molt (shed) into adults in the fall (September to November).
The male will feed on the host, but they will not reach the engorgement stage. They transfer from one host to another in search of a female mate. Once they mated one to two females, they will die. The male ticks don’t spread diseases. The female adults find their preferable hosts, and they feed on them for days to weeks and wait for the male mate. The mating occurs on the host in most cases. After the meal, the females drop off the host, digest the food, lay their eggs in the most suitable place, and die.
At a temperature below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, the adults become inactive, falls off from the host, and wait for the next mating. Most probably, they can have two attempts at mating. The nymphs will be engorged in 2-3 days, while the adult takes 4-7 days. It may take 36 hours to infect the host with Lyme disease.
Deer tick- Feeding pattern and preferable hosts:
- Deer ticks feed on smaller hosts like white-footed mice and chipmunks in the Larval stage.
- The white-footed mice are more abundant in Lyme widespread areas of Illinois. In the nymph stage, they feed on medium-sized hosts like opossums and squirrels.
- The adult black-legged or deer ticks feed on mammals such as humans, dogs, and livestock.
- But the most preferred host is the white-tailed deer. Hence, they got the name the Deer tick.
- They are the only tick species that carry the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi in northern Illinois. These bacteria are the primary causative agent of Lyme disease.
Wood Tick (American Dog Tick)
The wood tick is the most prevalent in Northern Illinois and the United States. The primary habitat for these ticks is Rocky mountainous, and woody regions. The adult wood ticks are reddish-brown. Their nymphs are yellowish and brown. The average size of adult males and females is 3.6mm and 5 mm, respectively. The females may grow about 10 mm to 15 mm in engorgement. Like Deer ticks, the female wood tick will have scutum only on its head, and the scutum covers the male’s entire body. The adult ticks have festoons and white markings on the scutum (shield-like structure).
Wood tick- Lifecycle:
The Wood tick (Dermacentor variabilis) may take two years to complete the life cycle. But at the least, they may take 54 days to complete the life cycle. The duration of the life cycle depends on climatic conditions and host availability. These ticks need three blood meals during a life cycle. Larvae feed for 14 days on animals such as squirrels and mice. The nymphs feed for ten days on animals such as raccoons, opossums, and rabbits.
Wood tick- Feeding pattern and preferable hosts:
Wood ticks feed on smaller rodents like squirrels and mice in the larval stage. Medium-sized rodents like raccoons, rabbits, and opossums are in the nymph stage. The adult Wood tick mainly feeds on Dogs and other large mammalian hosts. Adult Females usually engorge within one week. The males will stay in the host for 1- 2 days and transfer to the next host in search of a female. The female lays about 4000 eggs and dies.
Brown dog ticks (Kennel Tick)
Brown dog ticks are found in all parts of the United States. They are indoor ticks that can spend their life cycle in the door. They can attach to the same host for all their stages in the life cycle. Their primary habitat will be in homes and unmaintained dog kennels. Like the American dog tick, the female has scutum only in their head. The male has scutum in the entire body. The adult brown star tick is dark reddish brown with no marking, festoons, or eyes.
Brown dog tick- Lifecycle:
Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) has three stages of life cycles. They can complete becoming eggs into an adult within two months if they find a suitable host. It generally takes 3- 5 months, depending on the host. They can’t survive much in winter, so they are endophilic (prefer to stay indoors). Unfed Brown dog ticks can survive without a host for more than six months in the larva and nymph stages. In the case of the adult, they can stay up to two years to find a suitable host and mate.
Brown dog tick-feeding pattern and preferable host:
Unlike other ticks, they don’t need small, medium, or large hosts based on the lifecycle. They are mainly fed on dogs and also in other large mammals. The female, while engorged, will be in gray-blue or olive color.
Lone Star Ticks:
The lone Star ticks are also known as the cricket and turkey ticks. The scutum is present in both males and females. The shields on the females are bigger than that of the males. The adult female lone star ticks have a star-like design on the back of the ticks. The males have white dots in the corner of their backs.
Lone star ticks- Lifecycle:
Like other species, the lone Star ticks (Amblyomma Americanum) have three stages. Adult ticks must feed for 8 to 20 days before laying eggs. The females lay 20,000 eggs at a time.
Lone star ticks- Feeding pattern and preferable host:
The lone star ticks require water. These absorb the water from the air as opposed to drinking water directly. The lone star tick larvae which emerge from the eggs feed on blood for 4–7 days. The nymphs feed for 5–10 days before molting. The hosts for the lone star tick adults are large mammals. The nymph and larvae feed on birds and small mammals.
Gulf coast tick:
These ticks are most prevalent in Gulf countries and gradually spread to the south part of the US. They made their way to Illinois due to the rise in average winter temperature recorded in 2020. It is currently present in southern Illinois and moving to the north. It got extended by the migratory birds which travel to the south in winter. These ticks are dark brown and reddish. The size of these ticks is similar to American dog ticks. They are most abundant in wildlife areas. The pattern in scutum differentiates itself from other tick species. The adult female has scutum in their head region with an ornate pattern. The male has a scutum in the entire body with interconnected white markings. The gulf coast tick and American dog tick may look similar. But their habitats will be different in most cases. The grassy forests, trail edges, and dry landscapes are the habitat for Gulf Coast ticks.
Gulf Coast tick- lifecycle:
Gulf coast ticks (Amblyomma maculatum) are xerophilic (which means they can survive more in a drier environment). They have three host lifecycles. They will be most active in the summer climate for a long time in search of a host. The eggs will hatch to larvae at optimum temperature with high humidity in a dry place for three weeks. The female will take up to ten days for engorgement. The mating is similar to other tick species.
Feeding pattern and preferable hosts:
The Gulf Coast tick’s host size will increase from small to large based on their lifecycle stages. The ears of the host are perhaps the most prominent place for these ticks.
Tick Borne diseases In Northern Illinois
According to the Illinois division of research safety, the identified human-affecting diseases in Illinois, especially in Northern Illinois are given below
Lyme Disease ticks In Illinois
The leading cause of Lyme disease is Borrelia burgdorferi Bacteria in northern Illinois. Borrelia mayonii rarely causes this disease in Illinois and the United States. Black-legged ticks transmit Lyme disease. Ring-like rashes on the tick-infested area could characterize this disease. Lyme disease symptoms also include chillness and fever. If left untreated affects joints, hearts, and the nervous system.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF):
It belongs to the Spotted fever disease group (Spotted fever group rickettsioses), and American dog ticks transmit RMSF. Initial symptoms of RMSF could be fever and chills. After three-four days of initial symptoms, it causes spotted rashes on wrists and ankles. If left untreated, it causes severe damage to the kidney, heart, and other neurological functions.
Tidewater spotted fever:
This disease is less prevalent in Illinois but is gradually increasing due to the spread of Gulf coast Ticks in Illinois. It belongs to the group of spotted fever (rickettsioses). The tidewater spotted fever symptoms are similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever and less severe than RMSF. The rash of tidewater spotted fever differs by the dry and dark scab (eschar) in the tick’s bitten area.
Tickborne Relapsing Fever (TBRF):
The Bacteria Borrelia miyamotoi causes TBRF. The Deer ticks / black-legged ticks act as the main vectors of TBRF. High fever with muscle and joint pain characterizes this disease.
Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis:
The bacteria belonging to the genus Ehrlichia cause Ehrlichiosis, and the deer tick or lone star tick transmits this disease. In the United States, E.chaffeensis, E. ewingii, or E. muris eauclairensis is the primary cause of this disease. Anaplasma phagocytophilum causes Anaplasmosis, and deer tick transmits this disease. At the initial stage, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis have common flu symptoms. But, Ehrlichiosis is more severe than Anaplasmosis.
Francisella tularensis causes this rare infectious disease. The lone star ticks and American dog ticks can transmit Tularemia disease to humans. The painful or swollen lymph glands, skin ulcers, fever, and chills are the characteristics of Tularaemia.
Alpha gal syndrome:
The lone star tick bites most often cause Alpha gal syndrome. It is a food allergy to red meat and other products from mammals. It causes severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis within 2-6 hours of consuming red meat in most cases. In some cases, it may be recessive and cause allergic reactions later.
It affects and destroys red blood cells. Babesia, microscopic parasites, causes Babesiosis. Deer ticks transmit this disease in Illinois. Babesiosis gets transmitted from cattle, rodents, or roe deer to this tick. Babesiosis symptoms are similar to malarial symptoms.
Bourbon and Heartland virus:
Researchers currently found that Lone star ticks spread this newfound virus in Illinois. Bourbon and Heartland virus belong to the genus Thogoto Virus and Bandavirus. There are less than ten people affected by this virus each year. The common symptoms are similar to viral fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis. They may lead to fatal conditions for affected people.
It is a rare and fatal condition that causes encephalitis and meningitis. Encephalitis is an infection that causes swelling in the brain. Meningitis causes inflammation of the meninges, which surrounds the brain and spinal cord). It belongs to the genus Flaviviridae, and deer ticks are most likely to spread this disease.
Southern Tick Associated Illness (STARI):
The cause of STARI is unknown, and the lone star tick bite transmits this disease. The disease is associated with a circular red rash within a week of tick infestation. The symptoms include fever, stiff neck, headache, and muscle pain.
Tick Season In Illinois
IDPH (Illinois department of public health) says that the tick season falls between mid-spring and late fall (mid-march- late-November). The adult ticks are more active in April, May, and June. The life cycle of ticks decides their active / peak period.
- The nymphs of deer ticks (black-legged ticks) are most active (mainly transmit disease) and are active from May- June (late spring). The adults will be involved in spring (March-May) and Fall (September- November).
- The nymphs of the wood tick (American dog) are active in summer from Jun- early September. The adult wood ticks are active mid-spring-early fall (April- early September).
- The lone star ticks are most active from mid-spring to mid-summer (April- July).
- The gulf coast tick could be active in summer (Jun- august).
- The Kennel ticks (Brown Dog Ticks) are endophilic, so they may not depend on seasons; they need an indoor warmth climate.
Myths About Ticks In Illinois
There are several myths about ticks in Illinois; let’s debunk them
Ticks can jump and attach to the host:
Ticks belong to arachnids (spider-like species). They can’t jump like a flea.
Ticks can’t attack or survive in winter:
Ticks can survive in winter and remain inactive. They wait for the host. In optimal indoor temperatures, ticks could survive in winter.
Ticks are getting into your home only through outdoor hiking and forest trips:
Ticks’ habitat could be dense woody areas and forests and stick with you on the forest trips. However, ticks like American dog ticks and brown star ticks are mostly indoors and on lawns than in forests.
All types of ticks can spread Lyme disease:
Lyme disease is spread only through black-legged ticks. Not every black-legged tick can spread Lyme disease.
Antibiotics cure all tick-borne diseases:
Antibiotics can cure bacterial infections. But the ticks not only cause bacterial infection but could also cause viral diseases and unknown source diseases like STARI. So, don’t make any assumptions about yourself for treatment when infected by ticks.
Tick burning, rubbing alcohol, and soap is the easy method for tick removal:
People assume that rubbing alcohol and sop where the tick lies causes an uncomfortable environment for the ticks so that they will fall off. But, the only best method to remove ticks in your home is tweezers. Wash the place with sop after removal to prevent microbe infestation. You can use the rubbing alcohol to kill it after removing it from the skin.
Tick-borne diseases get transmitted in the next second of a tick bite:
The tick-borne diseases get transmitted to humans depending on the feeding days of the tick. It will take at least 24- 36 hours for the tick to transmit the disease if they get infected with it.
How To Prevent Ticks in Northern Illinois?
Tick prevention is significant in keeping away from contracting diseases:
- Apply 20 percent DEET insect repellent creams
- Use clothes and shoes treated with permethrin
- Grow tick-eating birds and animals such as turkey, guinea fowls, chickens and
- Keep away from tick-prone regions
For other effective prevention methods, check out our preventing tick bites Page.
How to Remove A Tick in Northern Illinois?
- Latex gloves
- Rubbing alcohol
- Container with a tight lid
Wear gloves before starting the procedure.
Using tweezers remove the tick with stable hands
Place the tick in the container if you are swinging it for testing. Otherwise, just place it in rubbing alcohol for killing.
Apply rubbing alcohol on the hands, tick bite area, and tweezers. This step is to get rid of any bacteria present on the surface.
Make sure to label the container with location and date.
It is crucial not to squeeze or wiggle the tick. This action may result in the release of saliva. The saliva may contain harmful pathogens in the blood of the victim.
If the head is still attached, remove it carefully with less pressure as saliva may be present inside the mouthparts.
Ticks are dangerous as they cause diseases with long-term effects. Vaccines are not available for all types of tick diseases. There is ongoing research regarding many tick-borne diseases vaccines. It is significant to prevent tick bites to protect oneself from tick-borne diseases in Northern Illinois.
Why are ticks so bad this year in Illinois?
According to weather reports of Illinois, the winter season is getting warmer in Illinois. So, the optimal environment for tick infestation is increasing. It will cause more tick infections after 2020.
Why didn’t I sense pain when ticks bit me?
The tick’s bite couldn’t be sensed by humans easily because the tick releases a numbing substance called Kinases.