Groundhog Tick

Ixodes cookei

Description

The groundhog tick (Ixodes cookei) is primarily found in the Eastern and Central United States, as well as parts of Eastern Canada. Larvae, nymphs and adults will feed on a variety of warm-blooded hosts, including skunks, squirrels, raccoons, fox, weasels, and mink. While not impossible, it is almost unheard of that these ticks bite humans. The groundhog tick is implicated in the transmission of Powassan virus, especially in Ontario, Canada.

Adult female groundhog ticks are approximately 1/8 inch in length (about the size of a sesame seed) and males are slightly smaller. Adult females are a tan to reddish-tan color with a darker dorsal shield or scutum on the back, behind the head. Larvae and nymphs are a slightly lighter tan color and are much smaller than adults. Groundhog ticks are similar in appearance to deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) thus microscopic identification may be necessary to differentiate between the two species.

 

Adult Male Adult Female

 

Hosts

This tick tends to prefer smaller mammals such as skunks, squirrels, raccoons, fox, weasels, and mink at all life stages: Larvae, nymphs, and adults.

 


Habitat

Most common in warm, subtropical climates in shaded sandy areas, as well as in cracks, crevices, and ceilings of houses and kennels.

 


Biology

Groundhog ticks most commonly feed on woodchucks and other small mammals, including raccoons, foxes, skunks, weasels, porcupines, dogs, and cats. They have also been found to feed on a number of bird species including robins. Groundhogs ticks will occasionally feed on humans. The life cycle of the groundhog tick is highly dependent on environmental conditions and host availability. Groundhog ticks can be encountered throughout the summer months with numbers peaking during July. The ability of groundhog ticks to live for long periods without a blood meal allows them to survive for a year or more without a host.

 


Range Distribution

Groundhog ticks can be found anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, particularly in New England, the northern Midwest, around the Great Lakes, and into southern Canada. They are among the most common tick species in Maine, though they are typically found in and around the dens and nests of their host.

 


Disease Transmission

Groundhog ticks are generally considered a nuisance and do *NOT* transmit Lyme disease. They can, however, transmit Powassan virus, a potentially deadly tick-borne illness.