Now that Summer is over you can stop worrying about ticks, right? Think again.

To understand why, we can look at the two-year lifecycle of the deer tick (or blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis).

Image courtesy of CDC

While May - July is the most dangerous time for contracting Lyme disease in Pennsylvania, ticks still pose a serious threat in the Fall. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease while in their nymph and adult stages. The smaller nymph ticks are most active in the Spring through early Summer. Adult ticks are most active in the Fall and remain active while temperatures are above freezing.

In terms of tick prevention, removing ticks from your property in the Fall helps protect your property for the whole by breaking the tick lifecycle. Killing off adults stop them from laying eggs during the Winter. Tick larvae are also very active in the Fall. Although larvae stage ticks are less dangerous to humans, it is important to kill them off so they don't turn into the highly dangerous nymph stage tick in the Spring.

Deer Tick Lifecycle

Year 1:

Egg - Eggs hatch in the Spring as tick larva.

Larva - Larvae are uninfected with disease until they take a blood meal from an infected host animal mostly during the Summer months. In the Fall, these larvae fall off their hosts and prepare to be dormant in the Winter.

Year 2:

Nymph - Nymphs become active in the Spring and may already be infected with disease (including Lyme). Nymphs take a blood meal in the Spring/Summer before molting into adults take a blood meal from a diverse set of hosts including humans. Because they are so small (poppyseed) they often go undiscovered for the 36-48 hours that Lyme disease needs to transmit from tick to human.

Adult - Adults are active in the Fall and Winter months. Adults have a high chance of carrying infectious disease since they have been exposed to blood meals from two different hosts. In the Philadelphia area roughly 20-50% of ticks are expected to carry Lyme.

Tick size at different lifecycle stages (adult top, nymph bottom)

Risk Factors in the Fall Months

  1. Adult ticks are most active in late Summer through early Winter, they take a blood meal during this time after having been exposed to two different hosts. Although they are easier to spot due to their relatively large size, they are still tiny (about the size of a sesame seed) and transmit Lyme in as little as a day and a half after biting a person.
  2. Researchers have recently raised concerns about tick larvae transmitting infectious disease. Previously, larvae were thought to be relatively benign. Larvae are highly active in the Fall months.
  3. Larvae are dormant in the Winter but they emerge in the Spring as nymphs who aggressively bit humans, are hard to spot due to their size, and transmit Lyme Disease.

Best Practices For Tick Control in the Fall Months

  1. Treat your property for ticks in the Fall. This has the duel benefit of killing off the Lyme transmitting adult ticks and killing off the larvae to reduce the more dangerous Nymph populations in the following Spring.
  2. Reduce tick populations on your property through landscaping techniques that eliminate tick habitats. Remove leaves, wood piles, overgrown brush, and other debris from your property.
  3. Kill off ticks at all stages through targeted pesticide control applications from a company such as FlyFoe mosquito and tick control.
  4. Continue to wear DEET-based products, especially on your legs. You can treat your shoes, socks, and pants with DEET as well to keep ticks away.