Finding a tick on your body after spending time outdoors is at best a minor annoyance and at worst a serious health concern. It all depends on what kind it is.
Maine is home to 15 different species of ticks, according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Tick Lab. Of those, five carry diseases that pose serious threats to people. Among those are deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease and have been steadily increasing in range and numbers in the state.
However, a handful of the species are still rare in the state.
This guide will help you identify the 15 ticks found in Maine, but you also can submit a sample to the cooperative extension to have it identified.
Also called the blacklegged tick, adult females are less than one-eighth-inch long and males are slightly smaller. The females are brown or reddish orange with a dark brown or black “shield” directly behind their head. The females can increase to a half-inch size after feeding, and their color changes to gray or dark brown. The males tend to be dark brown. Juveniles, called nymphs, also carry and transmit Lyme disease and are about the size of a poppy seed. Deer ticks have been reported in all 16 counties and most commonly are found in mixed forests and along the woodland edges of fields or suburban landscaped areas.
American Dog Tick
Adult female dog ticks range from one-quarter-inch long to a half-inch or longer when fully fed. They are reddish-brown with a creamy-white shield behind the head. Males are a little smaller and also reddish-brown, but without the shield. The males have cream or gray markings covering their entire back. This is a common species in Maine and is found in forested areas, open fields and lawns.
Also called moose ticks, the winter ticks are creating serious problems for Maine’s moose population. A recent study showed they were responsible for a 90 percent mortality rate in last year’s collared moose calves. Winter ticks are approximately a quarter-inch in length, with females reaching three-quarters of an inch when fully engorged. Adult females are typically reddish-brown with a creamy white shield. Adult males are dark brown with a white crosshatch pattern on their back. They are found wherever you find moose in Maine, particularly in forested areas of central and northern Maine.
This tiny tick is about the size of a sesame seed or smaller. The females are tan or reddish tan with a darker shield on the back. Males are the same color and do not have the shield. They are very similar looking to deer ticks and it can be difficult to tell them apart without a microscope. Woodchuck ticks are the most common species in Maine and tend to stick close to the dens of their hosts — woodchucks and other small mammals.
This is a common tick in Maine. Females are an eighth of an inch long, tan with a dark shield. Males are tan or brownish with no shield. This tick prefers cool, moist areas in forests and along the edges of rivers. It rarely feeds on humans and prefers mice, voles or rats, and it rarely leaves the nest site of its host.
These are small ticks that are less than an eighth of an inch long. Adults are a tan to reddish tan, with females having a slightly darker shield. Nymphs are similar in color to adults but are much smaller. They are found in a variety of forested areas in Maine.
The only tick species found in Antarctica, the seabird tick can also be found on Maine’s offshore islands in seabird nests, on grass and under rocks or debris. Adult females are typically an eighth of an inch long and up to a half-inch when engorged. Adult females can vary from tan to brown with a darker shield. Males are similar in size and color but lack the shield and have rounded or rectangular shaped formations, known as “festoons” along the bottom margin of the body. They feed on marine birds and rarely on people.
As their name implies, these ticks feed primarily on squirrels and are found mostly in nests throughout the state. They are also found in abandoned or seasonal buildings like summer camps where squirrels may have taken up residence. Squirrel ticks are generally larger than some of the other Ixodes species. Adult females are typically tan with a darker shield. Males are a reddish tan and tend to be slightly smaller than the females.
This tick feeds primarily on wild birds and occasionally on turkeys. The adults are an eighth of an inch long. These are rare in Maine and, if encountered, are often found on migratory birds in the state.
Gulf Coast Tick
This tick has been spotted in Maine but has not established a permanent population here. They are a quarter-inch long and can expand to half an inch after feeding. They are dark or reddish brown, and the female has a light-colored shield. The male has an ornately patterned shield covering his entire back. If you are going to see one in Maine, it would be along the edges of forests.
Lone Star Ticks
These ticks have a more rounded body shape than other species. Adult females are about a quarter-inch long and up to a half-inch or longer when fully engorged. Colors range from reddish-brown to tan, with adult females being distinguished by a single white spot on the back. The color of the spot can vary from white to cream or bronze and may take on an iridescent look at close range. Adult males typically have light-colored patterns along the outer margins of the body. Southern and coastal Maine is the northernmost point of the lone star tick’s range and they are still relatively rare in the state, although the population is growing. They are found in dry forest areas with undergrowth, along rivers or streams and near larger mammal resting areas. They feed primarily on deer but will feed on people.
Brown Dog Ticks
Also called kennel ticks, these ticks are rare in Maine and not found in nature. Instead, they may be encountered near kennels or other areas where dogs are housed together. The adult females are between an eighth- and quarter-inch and can expand to a half-inch after feeding. They are reddish brown with no distinctive body patterns. Males are slightly smaller.
This tick feeds primarily on rabbits and hares and is rare in Maine. Adult females are typically less than an eighth of an inch in length. They are brown to dark brown with a darker shield. They can inhabit grasslands, briar patches, brushy edges of woodlands and mixed crop areas in the state.
This recently discovered tick species is found on members of the weasel family — mink, weasels and fishers — and sometimes on domestic cats. Adult females are typically a tan to rust color and less than an eighth of an inch long. When engorged they tend to be longer and narrower than other engorged Ixodes species. They have only been found attached to hosts.
This is a common tick in the Northeast, except in Maine where it may be becoming displaced by deer ticks. Adult females are typically a tan color with a darker dorsal shield. Males are a reddish tan color and tend to be slightly smaller than the females. It primarily feeds on white-footed mice but can also be found on other small rodents or on domestic dogs and cats in periods of low mice populations. They also feed on people.