Ticks in South Dakota – AZ Animals

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South Dakota is perhaps most famous for Mount Rushmore, but this Midwestern state is no stranger to parasitic arachnids. There are at least six species of ticks in South Dakota, several of whom carry serious illnesses, including Lyme disease. Ticks may look like insects, but they are actually not insects, like flies or mosquitoes. Instead, ticks belong to the arachnid family, which also includes spiders, mites, and scorpions. Unlike spiders and scorpions, ticks do not hunt or consume their prey, they simply drink its blood.

Here we will learn more about ticks in South Dakota and where you might find them. We will learn how to identify each species of tick and which diseases and pathogens each species carries. Then we will find out what ticks carry Lyme disease and how to avoid their infectious bites.

Read on to learn more about ticks in South Dakota!

American dog tick

American Dog Tick sitting on a green leaf waiting for a host.
The American dog tick is one of the most common ticks in North America.

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American dog ticks in South Dakota live throughout the state. They do not transmit Lyme disease, but they carry rocky mountain spotty fever and tularemia. They are not likely to be found in forests. Instead, these ticks live in grasslands and are more common in spring and summer.

American dog ticks are red-brown, with small mouthparts and brown legs. Females have a tan scutum (the round shield over the shoulders) and males have tan mottling all over their bodies.

Lone star tick

The lone star tick is common in large parts of the United States.

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Lone star ticks in South Dakota do not transmit Lyme disease, but they do carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, human monocytic ehrlichiosis, and other diseases. These ticks are not common in the state and have only been seen occasionally in the southeast corner.

Solitary ticks have a reddish-brown body with large mouthparts and brown legs. Females have a distinct “lone star” mark on the center of their back. Males have only some tan mottling.

winter tick

winter tick
The winter tick primarily parasitizes large ungulates, such as moose and elk.

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Although they are not often seen by humans, winter ticks live throughout the state. They rarely bite people and are not associated with any pathogens or diseases. As their name suggests, these ticks are active during the fall and winter months. Unlike other ticks, which take on multiple hosts during their life cycle, the winter tick stays on one host for its entire lifespan. This can lead to massive infestations of tens of thousands of winter ticks on a single animal.

blacklegged tick

Two deer ticks isolated on white background.
The blacklegged tick is commonly known as the deer tick because it is almost always found near populations of Virginia deer.

KPixMining/Shutterstock.com

Blacklegged ticks are the only ticks in South Dakota capable of spreading Lyme disease. These ticks have black legs, an orange-brown body, and very large mouthparts. Only female blacklegged ticks are active feeders; they are able to bite humans year-round, as long as temperatures are above freezing.

rocky mountain tick

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, Dermacentor andersoni on a blade of grass.
The Rocky Mountain wood tick lives exclusively in and around the Rocky Mountains of North America.

South12th Photography/Shutterstock.com

Rocky Mountain wood ticks in South Dakota carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Colorado tick fever virus. But, they are not carriers of Lyme disease. These ticks only live on the western edge of the state.

Rocky Mountain wood ticks are dark brown, with no tan or red markings. They have a pear-shaped body and small mouthparts. They are more likely to bite deer, coyotesrabbits, foxes, badgers and other medium-sized mammals than humans.

brown dog tick

Close up of brown dog tick crawling on human skin.
The brown dog tick leads a more suburban life around dogs.

iStock.com/RobertAx

Brown dog ticks actually live indoors wherever there are dogs. They do not carry Lyme disease, but they can transmit canine diseases. These South Dakota ticks have narrow brown bodies, brown legs, and small mouthparts. They are more likely to be near a dog’s ears or belly.

Do South Dakota ticks have Lyme disease?

Fortunately for state residents, the only ticks in South Dakota that carry Lyme disease are blacklegged ticks. These ticks are easy to identify for two reasons. First, they are the only ticks in South Dakota with black legs. Second, they only live in the eastern third of the state. Additionally, blacklegged ticks live almost exclusively in areas with populations of white-tailed deer. If you think you have been bitten by a blacklegged tick, contact your GP as soon as possible.

How to Avoid Ticks in South Dakota

A wooden tick on the skin of a human hand.
When hiking in tick country, it is best to wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks.

Photopen/Shutterstock.com

There are two basic steps to preventing tick bites. The first is to keep ticks away from you in the first place, and the second is to keep them away from your skin if they get on board.

Ticks like tall grass, thick brush, and dense forest debris. Remember, ticks cannot run or even jump, so they are counting on you to come see them. So, stay away from tall grass and undergrowth that comes in contact with your person. Every leaf that touches you is like a little highway for ticks. Also, don’t dig into dead leaves on the forest floor, or you might find a nasty surprise.

The next step in protecting yourself from ticks is to protect your skin with your clothing. Ticks cannot bite through clothing, but they will try to find ways around them. That is why, when hiking in the land of ticks, it is better to wear long sleeves, long pants and socks. If you’re particularly worried, you can tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants. This effectively closes off any avenues that ticks might take to reach your blood.

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