The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, is found throughout the eastern, southeastern and south-central states. The distribution, range and abundance of the lone star tick have increased over the past 20-30 years, and now includes the Greater Kansas City area. While not generally considered household pests, they often occur in the vicinity of home sites being carved out of the fields and forests of suburban Kansas City.
Recognition, Biology, and Habits
Female lone star ticks are easily recognized by a single white dot in the center of a brown body, with the males having spots or streaks of white around the outer edge of the body.
Lone star ticks have a four-stage life cycle consisting of an egg, larva, nymph and adult stage. Also recognized as a three-host tick species, the lone star will feed from three different blood hosts before it becomes an adult. Adult ticks usually feed on large animals, such as cattle and humans.
Egg-laying occurs 7-16 days after the last blood meal. Larvae may survive for 2-9 months, and nymphs and adults for 4-15 months each; the life cycle may take up to 2 years to complete.
Overwintered nymphs are active from early May- early August, and can be found questing for deer, coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, turkeys and some birds as well as cats, dogs and humans. The nymphs typically take 5-6 days to become replete, and once fully engorged, they fall off of the host, where they molt into adults. The larvae are active July to late September and can be found questing for a wide variety of animals, including cats, dogs, deer, coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, turkeys, and some small birds. After feeding for around 4 days, they drop off of the host and bury themselves in the leaf litter, where they molt into nymphs. Low humidity and high daytime temperature will restrict the occurrence and activity of these ticks.
The middle of the three pictures at the very beginning of this discussion shows an adult, female lone star tick and various stages of engorgement of that tick. Such engorgement would also be typical of other species of ticks, although the markings and coloration would be different.
Where abundant, lone star tick larvae and nymphs can seemingly swarm up pant legs very quickly and may cover a person's legs or arms in less than five minutes; they can become attached in less than 10 minutes. This is a good behavioural characteristic to note, to aid in identification of this tick species.