Difference between Deer Tick and Wood Tick

By: | Updated: Dec-13, 2021
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The terms deer tick and wood tick commonly describe various subgroups of ticks. These terms are often used interchangeably, particularly depending on the location. If these terms are often interchanged, how does one tell them apart?

Summary Table

Deer Tick Wood Tick
Refers to the Ixodes genus Refers to the Dermacentor genus
Carries Lyme disease Can cause Rocky Mountain fever


adult female deer tick
An adult female deer tick

The term deer tick is used to refer to several species of parasitic, disease-carrying ticks of the Ixodes genus under the Ixodidae family. In the western coast of North America, it refers to the Western blacklegged tick, or Ixodes pacificus. Many fear this species of deer tick as the principal carrier of Lyme disease, a bacterial disease that can later develop into disorders in the heart and nervous system. Most people in the West coast call it the blacklegged tick.

In the northern and eastern regions of the Midwest, it refers to Ixodes scapularis, a hard-bodied tick also known as the bear tick in some areas in the U.S. It can cause several diseases among humans and animals such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, etc. It usually clings on white-tailed deer hence the name deer tick. In Europe, the term refers to Ixodes ricinus, also known as the castor bean tick. It is a carrier of tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease.

A deer tick that had just finished feeding will be engorged, and its abdomen turns a light, grayish blue. An engorged deer tick looks very different when it has not fed, making it easy to think it is a different tick species.

A deer tick usually has a life span of 2 years and goes through three life stages – tick larva, tick nymph, and adult. The deer tick requires a blood meal before it can move to the next stage of its life cycle.

Rocky Mountain wood tick
A disease-carrying Rocky Mountain wood tick

The word wood tick is also a common term for the genus Dermacentor, also called the American Levi tick. It is a member of the Ixodidae family, also known as hard ticks in some places. This subfamily of hard ticks is everywhere, having native species on all continents with the exception of Australia. As of 2010, about 34 known species make up the Dermacentor genus. One common species in this genus is the American dog tick (dermacentor variabilis). Large mammals such as horses, deer, cattle and even porcupines are host to this tick species. Small mammals also becomae the host of it, such as dog.

While wood ticks do not carry Lyme disease, they do carry other diseases and can cause tick paralysis. Experts believe the American dog tick is the carrier of the Rocky Mountain fever on the Eastern coast of the U.S. The Rocky Mountain wood tick can also spread tularemia, commonly called tick fever.

Deer Tick vs Wood Tick

So what’s the difference between a deer tick and wood tick? While deer ticks and wood ticks are sweeping terms for ticks under the Ixodidae family, they belong to two separate subgroups. The word deer tick refers to several tick species of the genus Ixodes that includes Ixodes pacificus (i.e., Western blacklegged tick) from the western coast of North America. Ixodes scapularis (i.e., bear tick) is from northern and eastern regions of the Midwest U.S. In Europe, it is Ixodes ricinus, also known as the castor bean tick. Wood ticks of the Dermacentor genus are found in all continents except Australia. It currently has 34 known species.

Most members of the deer tick subgroup are common carriers of Lyme disease, whereas, members of the wood tick subgroup are carriers of various pathogens that cause many diseases such as the Rocky Mountain fever and tick paralysis.

How do you tell if a tick is a deer tick?

One of the easiest ways to tell if a tick is a deer tick is by the characteristic scutum (also known as the shield) that can be seen on both sides of the front legs. The deer tick has a characteristic shield or scutum that can be seen on both sides of its front legs and differ them between adult male and adult female. The color of the scutum ranges from dark brown to gray, with black spots or rings. In female ticks, the scutum can be oval shaped, which distinguishes it from other Ixodes species.

It is possible to confuse the deer tick with other types of ticks. One way to tell if a tick is a deer tick is by its head shape. Adult deer ticks have a small, flat head that does not bulge out from the body like other types of ticks. If you find an Ixodes in the woods, take note of its appearance as it may be more difficult to spot once it has attached itself to your skin.

Is a dog tick the same as a deer tick?

The answer is NO. There are some species of ticks that can be mistaken for dog ticks. Dog ticks are members of the Ixodidae family, and are much smaller than deer ticks. These species can cause diseases in dogs but not in humans. For example, the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is found in Texas and Louisiana and can cause a rash on dogs but not humans. The Lone Star tick is similar to the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus).

What causes Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted by Ixodes ticks. The pathogen is capable of causing a long-term infection in humans. It can be transmitted to humans through tick bites or by tick bites in humans who have not been properly treated. Lyme disease is not passed from person to person and can only be spread through tick bites. Some symptoms of Lyme disease include: fever, headache, and muscle pain.

How do I know if my dog has been bitten by a tick?

If you are worried about your dog or loved one getting Lyme disease, be sure to check for ticks after you have taken your dog for a walk. Look for small, dark spots that may be evidence of tick activity, such as brown dog tick, or you can do tick identification to clearly know which tick is bite your dog.

The first step is to remove the tick carefully with tweezers. Do not use your fingers as this may result in more damage to the tick’s mouth parts. Then place the skin behind the ear so that it can be seen without having to remove all the hair on your dog’s body. If you see no blood spots, but you are concerned about your dog’s health, take him or her to a veterinarian immediately for testing and possible treatment for Lyme disease (and other tick-borne diseases).

How can you remove a deer tick?

Ticks can be removed with tweezers or by squeezing them between your fingers. Be careful not to crush the tick as this may cause the tick to release more of its pathogens into your skin. If you do crush the tick, it will probably die soon after. To kill a tick, apply a drop of rubbing alcohol on it and leave it in place for 10 minutes. Repeat this process two or three times to kill the tick completely.

A deer tick should be removed within 24 hours of being attached to your skin. If you are unable to remove the tick from your skin within 24 hours, you should seek medical attention immediately as there may be an infection occurring in your body caused by the bite of a deer tick. It is very important that you wash the area with soap and water after removing the tick and do not touch any open wounds until they have completely healed. If a deer tick is embedded in your skin, there is a risk that it may remain alive inside you for many years and could possibly even lead to a potentially fatal disease called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever if not treated correctly.

Is it possible to have a tick bite on your head?

It is possible to have a tick bite on your head, but it is not common. Ticks may attach themselves to the scalp, but they usually die there before they can burrow into the skin. However, if you find a tick attached to your scalp and remove it within one hour of finding it, you will have no chance of getting Lyme disease.

The subspecies of the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, can cause a single large, flat and hard bump on the scalp that looks like a pimple. This bump is not normally associated with any other symptoms. If this occurs and is not a secondary infection, it is usually no cause for concern.

If you are worry about your circumstances, you can report to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about common ticks around you. You can also spread tick repellent around.

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