Deer ticks found in New Jersey.
The blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick, is found throughout the eastern and upper mid-western regions of the United States. While it has a widespread distribution, the majority of cases of Lyme disease are reported in coastal northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. In New Jersey, the blacklegged tick and the diseases it transmits are most prevalent in rural and suburban wooded areas throughout the state.
The life cycle of the blacklegged tick in New Jersey takes approximately two years to complete. Adults are active during the fall, winter months when temperatures rise above freezing, and spring. After mating and feeding on a host, usually a medium- to large-sized mammal, the engorged female tick will drop off the host and produce an egg mass containing several thousand individual eggs. These eggs will hatch into uninfected larvae during the summer. There is minimal transovarial transmission of pathogens from infected females to eggs. The larvae typically quest for hosts at ground level in leaf litter, and typically feed on small mammals and certain birds. After feeding for several days, the larvae will drop off the host, overwinter, and molt to nymphs the following spring. If a larval tick fed on an infected host, it will become infected and carry the pathogens through the molt, becoming an infected nymph. Nymphs also quest at or near ground level and tend to feed on the same small mammals and birds as larvae. After feeding for 3-4 days, the nymphs will leave the host, molt to adults in the fall, and complete the life cycle. If the nymph was infected by feeding on an infected host as a larva, it will now be able to transmit the pathogens to the next host on which it feeds. Adults frequently quest on shrub layer vegetation and therefore tend to encounter larger animals as hosts.
It is important to note that while different generations are involved, the activity period of nymphs precedes that of larvae during any given year, resulting in high infection prevalence of Lyme disease spirochetes in nymphal and adult blacklegged ticks. Additionally, adults will resume host-seeking activity during winter months when temperatures rise above freezing, which may contribute to the continued risk of Lyme disease transmission even during winter months.
Since most cases of Lyme disease occur between May and July, transmission appears to be epidemiologically linked to the activity period of nymphal blacklegged ticks. People tend to be more active in tick habitat during this time and since nymphs are quite small, many feed becoming fully engorged with blood without ever being noticed. However, some Lyme disease cases have been reported with a month of onset between October and April. Therefore, transmission during the fall, winter, and early spring can only result from exposure to infected adults. Although adults have a much higher spirochete infection prevalence than nymphs, fewer Lyme disease cases occur during this period because adult ticks are less abundant; fewer people are active in tick habitats; those people who are active generally wear multiple layers of clothing; people like hunters, hikers, bird watchers, and others who engage in outdoor recreational activities are generally more knowledgeable about tick bite prevention; and adult ticks, because they are much larger than nymphs, are more easily seen and removed before they transmit disease pathogens. Contact Bite Back to learn more about how we can help.