When you spend time outdoors, the last thing you want is a nasty tick attaching to your arm or leg. Unfortunately, ticks are a reality in many places. They latch onto human skin, crawl into not-so-obvious places, and suck your blood in order to grow or reproduce.
If you’re spending time in the Sunshine State, you might be wondering, “What kind of ticks are there in Florida?” We have the answers so you can be as prepared as possible.
Does Florida Have Ticks?
So, are ticks bad in Florida? The answer depends on where in Florida you travel.
Like many other places in North America, Florida is home to several different species of ticks. But ticks are not all the same. Certain species are more dangerous for humans than others, and some are even life-threatening.
Ticks fall under the order Ixodida, which belongs to the class of arachnids. You’ve probably heard of arachnids before — spiders are the most well-known arachnids. Ticks are classified as ectoparasites, meaning they live outside their hosts but display parasitic behaviors.
Florida is home to diverse tick species, but not all are dangerous to humans. Certain Florida ticks are notorious for causing debilitating diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Knowing more about how ticks work can help you better defend yourself against them and avoid harmful illnesses.
How Common Are Ticks in Florida?
Florida is a large state, spanning nearly 66,000 square miles. You can almost guarantee that you’ll come across ticks at some point, no matter where you go in the state.
Tick population density in Florida depends on the specific location and habitat you’re in. While there are typically fewer ticks in built up suburban and urban settings, wooded, weedy, and grassy areas will likely support much higher tick populations especially if they have higher humidity. Ticks thrive in moist, shade and semi-shaded areas.
Learning about the different Florida tick species can help you determine whether the area you’re visiting is a tick hotspot.
Types of Ticks in Florida
The different tick species found in Florida can carry many different dangerous or even fatal diseases to humans. And surprisingly, each different type of tick tends to harbor its own unique set of germs. The following tick species are the most commonly encountered and are important to learn about.
Blacklegged Ticks (Deer Tick)
Commonly known as deer ticks, blacklegged ticks make their homes in deciduous forests and around the shady edges of tall grasslands. Any Florida area with lots of shrubs, forest land, and shaded grass may be home to deer ticks.
As the name suggests, deer ticks prefer white-tailed deer as their host of choice, especially in their adult life stage. They also parasitize other wildlife, so make sure you keep an eye out for them even if the area is free of white-tailed deer.
From April through August, larvae and nymph stage deer ticks are most active and use reptiles, birds, and rodents as their hosts. From September through May, adult stage deer ticks are most active. Large animals like cattle and horses also may be susceptible to deer tick infestations.
Deer ticks are best known for carrying Lyme disease germs, but they can also spread germs causing babesiosis and human granulocytic anaplasmosis, or HGA.
Lone Star Ticks
Lone star ticks are probably the most encountered tick in Florida. They aggressively target human hosts and are often successful. They carry a few types of disease-causing germs. And their bite can induce a red meat allergy.
This species is normally found in dense undergrowth or along trails but they also move out into more open settings and residential yards, making it hard to defend against them. If you’re hiking, camping, or doing other intensive outdoor activities in Florida, be vigilant and check for signs of the lone star tick.
Lone star ticks transmit the following diseases:
- Human monocytic ehrlichiosis
- STARI borreliosis
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (rare)
- Alpha-gal syndrome
Bites from this tick appear to be the main cause of alpha-gal syndrome in some human hosts. While not an infectious disease and still relatively rare, lone star ticks can cause a life-threatening allergy to red meat, which is part of alpha-gal syndrome.
This syndrome is named after a specific sugar molecule found only in red meat and other mammal products. Venison, sheep, cattle, and rabbit meat can all contain this sugar molecule, and if ingested by a person with alpha-gal syndrome, the allergic reaction triggered can be fatal.
American Dog Ticks
American dog ticks are fairly common throughout the United States. They thrive in more open grassy areas and on the edges of forests.
These ticks prefer medium-sized mammals as their natural hosts. That’s where their name comes from — they often parasitize dogs,raccoons, and skunks. Unfortunately, humans still aren’t safe from their grasp.
While American dog ticks latch onto humans at raccoon or dog height, they usually quickly crawl upwards and are commonly found attached near the crown of the head. Always check your head thoroughly after spending time in Florida woodlands or grassy areas. They didn’t fall out of trees and land on your head but they did crawl up.
Male ticks of this species will bite but then detach and wander in search of a female; females remain attached and feeding for a week or longer. Once the females are fully engorged, they detach, drop from the host to the ground, and get ready to lay eggs.
American dog ticks can carry the germ causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other bacterial infections, too but they don’t transmit the Lyme disease germ. A bit of good news there but means it’s important to correctly identify the tick found biting. Your health depends on it.
Brown Dog Ticks
Most ticks are brown and most bite dogs but there is a species called brown dog ticks that is a bit unique in it’s habits. This semi-tropical tick is a common inhabitant of Florida, especially from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale and south. Unlike other types of ticks, this one survives and thrives inside households with pets, and in pet kennels. Once in a home, they are tough to get rid of. Maintaining a vigilant tick prevention plan with pets is critical to avoid nightmarish encounters with this tick.
Brown dog ticks transmit several tick-borne canine diseases, but they aren’t known for transmitting human diseases often. It’s still a good idea to watch out for brown dog ticks -- they can infect your pets, and they can become frightening household pests.
Gulf Coast Ticks
Gulf Coast ticks are found all along the Atlantic coast and in areas near the Gulf of Mexico. This makes Florida an ideal location for Gulf Coast ticks to reproduce and thrive. Unfortunately, this can spell bad news for human health.
Gulf Coast ticks carry a spotted fever-causing bacteria (Rickettsia parkeri) with symptoms similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever. From headaches and muscle aches to skin rashes, Parkeri spotted fever is sure to ruin any good vacation.
Whether you’re local to Florida or just visiting, it’s important to watch for signs of the Gulf Coast tick. Doing so will help you protect your health.
When Is Tick Season in Florida?
While each of the different types and life stages of ticks have their own seasons of activity, tick encounters are possible all year throughout Florida, so you aren’t necessarily automatically safe during a particular season. However, tick season peaks in the spring and early summer. If you’re traveling to Florida during these seasons, be extra cautious and check for ticks often.
It’s important to know the areas where Florida ticks are most densely populated. Use this guide to learn about ticks in forests, grasslands, and cities alike so you can avoid harmful health complications.
Insect Shield: Protect Yourself From Florida Ticks
Now you know that Florida ticks are abundant and can cause health problems for any human, child, or adult. But what can you do about this problem?