What is a Lone Star Tick?

The lone star tick is a type of parasite that feeds on the blood of its host. It is common to the Eastern, Southeastern and Midwestern parts of the United States, although it can also build large populations outside of these areas. As its population continues to spread, there are a number of concerns that have been raised about this species of ticks.

The basics

Sometimes mistakenly spelled as lonestar tick, this type of pest is transported and spread by host animals. It is not picky about hosts, readily feeding on humans and all other types of animals, although it may have a preference of size during different stages of life. The scientific name for this species is Amblyomma americanum.

Description

Adults have eight legs and are reddish-brown in color. Males may have a slightly darker color and are about 0.12 to 0.16 inches in length. Females are larger, about 0.16 to 0.24 inches in length, with a cream to golden-colored spot on their back. This spot makes the female lone star tick easy to distinguish from other species of ticks. The female can expand up to 0.63 inches in length after a blood feeding.

Life cycle

Lone star ticks develop in four life stages: egg, larval, nymph and adult. They are a three-host tick, taking a new host for every life stage after the egg has hatched. Hosts can range in size from small birds to cattle and humans, with adult ticks preferring larger hosts. Both males and females require a blood meal before they are able to reproduce. The female also feeds for several days after mating then drops from the host to find a safe place to deposit eggs.

A female can only reproduce once. She lays about 5,000 eggs in one setting, usually in a leafy or otherwise hidden area of the ground, before dying. Eggs incubate for about 30 to 60 days before hatching into larvae. Following a small resting period, larvae begin to search for a host by “questing.”

When a tick quests, it raises its upper legs in the air and positions itself in a place where a host is likely to pass. When a host comes near, the tick is then prepared to attach itself. This can sometimes result in long rows of ticks lining up across a yard. A larva will feed for one to three days before dropping back to the ground to molt into a nymph. Once the molt is complete, the process is repeated. A nymph feeds for five to six weeks before dropping to the ground to molt into an adult.

Disease

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the lone star tick as one of the main vectors of Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii in the United States – a disease agent responsible for causing ehrlichiosis in humans. This type of tick may also cause southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) and, according to some research, might be responsible for a meat-induced, alpha-gal allergic reaction that causes those affected to suffer life-threatening allergic reactions after the consumption of red meat.

Lone star ticks are aggressive biters and prominent nuisances in the United States due to high population densities and non-specific feeding habits. When you're away from home, the CDC recommends personal repellents as an effective way to prevent tick bites outdoors. To manage a tick population near your home, it is best to call a pest management professional.