IPM Action Plan for Western U.S. Ticks

Pest Management In and Around Structures April 08, 2016 Print Friendly and PDF

Two ticks on a blade of grass.

.  eXtension's team of Urban IPM experts have developed a new school IPM action plan for Western U.S. ticks. Be sure to check it out!
Pacific Coast tick, Dermacentor occidentalis  Bug Guide
Pacific Coast tick,
Dermacentor occidentalis
Bug Guide

Ticks, Western U.S.

These ticks are examples of commonly encountered species in the western United States:

  • Western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus
  • Rocky Mountain wood tick, Dermacentor andersoni
  • American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis
  • Pacific Coast tick, Dermacentor occidentalis


The western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus), also known as the Pacific tick, is a primarily found in heavily-forested or dense bushy areas. It is the principal vector of Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme disease spirochete (type of bacterium) in the western United States. Ticks must remain attached to the host for at least 24 hours to pass this pathogen to the host. The early signs of the disease usually show up as a rash at the bite site followed by flu-like symptoms. Untreated cases may lead to arthritic conditions and possible neurological problems. Medical care should be sought when a person is bitten by a deer tick or exhibits Lyme disease symptoms.

American dog tick, 
Dermacentor variabilis (Say)

Several different Dermacenter species are commonly found in the western United States: the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacenter andersoni), the Pacific Coast tick (Dermacenter occidentalis), and the American dog tick (Dermacenter variabilis). Dermacenter species ticks do not transmit Lyme disease; however, they can vector other human pathogens. The American dog tick is larger than a Pacific tick, and the unengorged female has a whitish shield on its back. This tick readily attaches itself to humans and may carry the organism that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a serious disease that can be transmitted to humans. Symptoms of this disease are headache, fever, and aching muscles two to 14 days after tick attachment. Two to three days after the fever starts, a rash develops on the wrists and ankles, spreading to the palms, soles, and trunk of the body. American dog ticks are most likely to be found in open areas with tall grass or brush. All ticks have a life stage that is active during the summer.  At any time of the year, some life stage of the American dog tick can be found. Check with your county Extension office to determine the seasonality of these ticks for your area. http://www.nifa.usda.gov/Extension/index.html

Western black-legged tick,  Ixodes pacificus.
Western black-legged tick, 
Ixodes pacificus
Bug Guide

General  Information

Ticks are sometimes of concern on school properties, especially those species capable of transmitting pathogens that cause serious diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Powassan encephalitis. Approximately 12 species are considered to be of major public health or veterinary concern.

Management practices include the following:

  1. personal protective measures such as wearing appropriate clothing, avoiding habitats associated with ticks, and judicious use of insect repellents
  2. landscape modifications
  3. exclusion of wildlife that host ticks, where legal and possible
  4. limited use of pesticides as a targeted barrier treatment against ticks, if necessary. Wildlife exclusion may be tied to local ordinances, so check with your local authorities.

Screen shot of the Texas A&M Tick App. Ticks are blood-feeding arthropods related to spiders and mites. The adult tick has eight legs compared to insects, which have six legs. Ticks can feed on a variety of animals including birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals (including people). The primary habitats for ticks are wooded areas and the open or grassy areas at the edges of wooded areas. On school properties, ticks are most often found on playgrounds, athletic fields, cross-country trails, paths, and school yards located in and adjacent to wooded areas, especially where deer and other wildlife hosts are abundant.

As ticks go through their life stages (egg, larva, nymph, and adult), they usually change hosts. Young ticks will attach to small animals and be dispersed by them. Nymphs and adults will climb onto grasses, herbaceous plants, and shrubs, which enable them to latch onto larger hosts. Adult ticks remain in an area for months waiting for an appropriate host.

On humans, ticks migrate around the hairline, the area behind the ears, or in the armpits. It takes five to six hours for a tick to become firmly attached and up to 10 days for it to become fully engorged with blood. The female needs a blood meal to lay her eggs. Ticks have been known to survive for months without a blood meal.

Removing Ticks

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove attached ticks. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove mouthparts with tweezers or consult the school nurse.
  • Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick because its fluids may contain infectious organisms.
  • Do not handle the tick with bare hands because infectious agents may enter through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin.
  • Apply rubbing alcohol to the bite and wash hands with soap and water.

Note: Folklore remedies such as petroleum jelly or hot matches do little to encourage a tick to detach from skin. In fact, they may make matters worse by irritating the tick and stimulating it to release additional saliva, increasing the chances of transmitting a tick-borne disease. These methods of tick removal should be avoided. Also, many tick removal devices have been marketed, but none are better than a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers.

Monitoring and Inspection

Landscape management practices designed to make the landscape more inhospitable to primary tick hosts may reduce a tick population. However, these practices alone will not eliminate all ticks and the risk of associated diseases. Therefore, other tick control practices must be integrated with the overall program to reduce the risk of disease. It may be impractical and expensive to institute tick control measures and landscape management practices in all areas of the school grounds. Efforts should be focused on frequently used areas such as playgrounds, ball fields, and areas immediately surrounding the school building.

To monitor ticks attach a cord to a dowel, and staple a piece of light-colored soft cloth (usually corduroy or flannel) to the dowel. Drag the cloth across an area of grass or low brush. At fixed intervals (for example, every 10 meters at high tick density or every 100 yards at low density), examine the cloth and count the numbers of ticks attached to it. This method catches about one out of every 10 ticks.

Nonchemical Control Measures

Management practices include personal protective measures, habitat modification, and limited use of pesticides as a targeted barrier treatment.

Personal Protection

  • Wear light-colored clothing with long pants tucked into socks when going into tick-infested areas.
  • Educate students, families, and school staff about ticks, tick-vectored diseases, and the proper use of repellents.
  • Keep to the center of trails to minimize contact with brush and tall grasses.
  • Wash and dry clothing at the highest temperature setting upon returning from a tick-infested area.
  • Inspect your entire body carefully at the end of the day after bring outdoors. Carefully remove any attached ticks using fine-tipped tweezers to gently grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick straight upward with steady, even pressure. Save the tick for future identification by placing it in a waterproof, crush-proof container with alcohol.

Habitat Modification

  • Manage the landscape to reduce humidity where ticks are likely to be found.
  • Reduce cover for mice. Eliminate wooded, brush-covered habitat; prune lower branches of bushes; and clean up storage areas, woodpiles, and junk piles.
  • Reduce deer habitat or erect deer-exclusion fencing.
  • Rake leaf litter, use wood chips, or plant shade-tolerant grass under shade trees to reduce tick abundance.
  • Trim trees and brush to open up wooded areas in and around areas of human activity, allowing sunlight to penetrate to reduce moisture, which reduces tick habitat.
  • Keep grass mowed.
  • Remove leaf litter, brush, and weeds at the edge of the lawn.
  • Restrict the use of ground cover, such as pachysandra, in areas frequented by people.
  • Discourage rodent activity. Clean up and seal stone walls and small openings on school properties.
  • Move bird feeders away from school buildings.
  • Avoid landscape plantings that attract deer or use deer-exclusion fencing to keep deer off school properties.
  • Keep playground equipment away from woodland edges and place them on wood-chip or mulch-type foundation.
  • Trim trees and shrubs on the school properties and at the woodland edges to permit more sunlight.
  • Create a 3-foot-or-wider wood chip, mulch, or gravel border between turf and woods.
  • Widen woodland trails and walkways to permit trail users to avoid contact with woody vegetation and tall grasses.

Chemical Controls

If tick-vectored disease risk is high, a targeted barrier treatment can reduce tick populations along wooded property edges where human activity is also high.  These locations may include the edges of sports fields, along cross-country running trails, and margins of playgrounds. Spraying open fields and lawns is not necessary. Pyrethroid insecticides have been effective as targeted barrier treatments. These applications should be timed to coincide with peak nymphal populations.

Always read and follow the label. The label is the law. Pesticides must be used in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations. Applicators must have proper credentialing to apply pesticides and should always wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as required by the pesticide label during applications. All labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the pesticide products authorized for use in the IPM program should be maintained on file.

Evaluation Methods

Use the tick sweeping technique described under "Monitoring and Inspection" above to evaluate effectiveness of the IPM strategies that have been used.  Keep records of tick-human encounters and tick laboratory testing. 

Emerging Issues, New Strategies, and Priorities

Tick-vectored diseases are on the rise in the United States, therefore tick management issues are likely to be increasingly important for schools. Lyme disease is now found in 46 states and the number of new cases reported increased by 9.6 percent from 2003 to 2005.  Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been reported in 40 states. The number of cases reported in the United States more than tripled between 2000 and 2003.

Current IPM strategies for tick management place an emphasis on pesticides used as repellents for treatment of skin and clothing and as landscape barrier treatments. Most repellents are not recommended for use on young children. Research and surveillance is needed to improve understanding of tick ecology and epidemiology of tick-borne diseases.

Authors:Compiled by Carrie Foss and Rebecca Mcguire from publications from Maine Dept of Ag, Washington State University and Phil Kaufman, Faith Oi of the University of Florida.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.