Finding a tick on your pet or in your home can be a startling experience. You may be wondering how long it’s been on your pet, where it came from, and why it’s here. But more importantly, you’re probably wondering how you can repel these tiny arachnids?
Ticks are attracted to several common things that can be found in your yard. Stonewalls, woodpiles, leaf litter, tall grass, pets, deer, mice, and wooded areas are all highly attractive to ticks. Identifying and eliminating tick habitats will help repel these troublesome insects.
Ticks feed off of the blood of living hosts like pets, wild animals, and even people. Read on to discover all the things that attract ticks, and how you can repel them from your yard and pets. Let’s get to it!
What Kinds Of Ticks Are Out There?
There are over 800 different species of ticks out in the world, but only a few are of concern to people and pets.
The three most important tick species are the deer tick (black-legged tick), the lone star tick, and the American dog tick. These are the ticks most commonly found on pets, around the yard, and in homes.
There are a few other important tick species that are of less concern:
- Brown dog tick
- Gulf Coast tick
- Rocky Mountain wood tick
- Western black-legged tick
These ticks either only inhabit a specific region, such as the Gulf Coast tick, or they rarely bite humans, such as the Western black-legged tick.
Many people have issues telling small insect apart from each other. Take a look at our article on how you can tell fleas, ticks, and bed bugs apart!
Why You Should Repel Ticks
Ticks aren’t like most pests. They don’t invade the home and chew wood or make nests. Ticks pretty much just feed themselves and provide food for other animals and birds.
But just because ticks aren’t as destructive as ants or wasps doesn’t mean you want them hanging around your home and yard.
When ticks are in their larval and nymph stages they often feed on smaller animals like birds and mice. Unfortunately, during this early stage of feeding, ticks can pick up Lyme disease, which can then be transmitted to humans and pets.
Now that we know what kind of ticks are out there and why we want to repel them, let’s look at what these little arachnids are attracted to. After, we’ll go over how to keep them out of your yard and off your pets.
Ticks Are Attracted To Cool, Moist Environments
Most ticks are attracted to cool, moist environments such as in wet leaf litter or densely wooded areas. You are very unlikely to find ticks in open areas like a sunny lawn or park.
The reason ticks are attracted to cool, wet conditions is because they are susceptible to drying out and must absorb water from their environment to remain hydrated.
Humidity also plays a vital role in a tick’s health. The population of ticks is the highest in states like Pennsylvania and New York where conditions are warm and humid from spring until fall.
According to the CDC, ticks are most active from North Dakota down to central and southern Texas and every state east of there to the coast.
Ticks are almost completely absent west of that line starting from Montana down to New Mexico and all states to the west. This isn’t surprising since many of these states are dry and desert-like.
Some, like the brown dog tick, can be found in every state because its primary host is the domestic dog. Others, like the rocky mountain wood tick, are found exclusively in the Rocky Mountain range.
Temperature is an important factor in tick habitat as well. According to Penn State University, ticks will remain active in temperatures as low as 35℉. They are less active on days when temperatures reach above the mid-’80s.
Cool temperatures help prevent ticks from drying out, which brings us to our next tick attractant: shade.
Ticks Love Shade Filled Areas
There’s a pattern here when it comes to a tick’s favorite hang-out spots. They like it cool, wet, and shady.
Shady conditions provide ticks with a cool location to prevent drying out. But besides their own needs, ticks hang out in shaded areas because many critters like shade as well.
On hot summer days, all manner of animals are looking for shade beneath trees and in bushes to hide until the temperatures cool down. Because wildlife is a tick’s main food source, you can expect to find ticks there as well.
Ticks Are Attracted To Densely Wooded Areas
It’s nice to have a thicket of woods bordering your property. A nice reminder of the wilderness and closer access to creatures like squirrels and deer.
Unfortunately, ticks also love densely wooded areas.
You’ll find ticks in wooded areas for two main reasons:
- Shade & Moisture: we mentioned before that ticks love moisture and they love the shade. Wooded areas have plenty of both. The tree canopy and shaded areas help retain moisture from rains and keep the temperatures cool.
- Food: Ticks feed on a variety of wildlife including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The only creatures that are safe from ticks are other insects, spiders, and fish!
White-tailed deer are one of the most popular feeding choices for ticks. During the day, white-tailed deer typically hang out in shaded areas or densely wooded areas. Sound familiar?
It’s no coincidence that ticks also like shady, wooded areas!
Densely wooded areas are likely to be teeming with hosts that ticks can feed on to survive. Within these wooded areas, ticks are likely hiding in tall grass or shrubs that animals will pass through, picking up an unexpected hitchhiker.
An article in the Journal of Experimental and Applied Acarology found that, when collecting ticks for scientific study, more ticks were found in forests compared to open habitats such as a lawn or sunny field.
This confirms that ticks prefer shady, covered locations as opposed to being out in the open where they might bake in the sun.
Ticks Are Attracted To Stone Walls
Many homes employ stone walls in their basements and garages. The sturdy stone can withstand the underground environment better than other materials.
Ticks are attracted to stone walls and retaining walls. The reason ticks are attracted to stone isn’t entirely clear.
It could be that ticks are hiding in bushes or tall grass near the stone walls and use the rough surfaces to climb up the stone in search of a meal or a more suitable habitat.
Another reason may be that ticks are looking for a way to get inside your home. According to the University of Rhode Island, brown dog ticks prefer indoor environments to outdoor and can withstand dry conditions longer than other ticks.
Ticks climbing on stone walls and retaining walls are more likely to happen in the spring when adult ticks are just starting to emerge and look for meals.
Ticks Love Woodpiles & Brushpiles
Ticks may be repulsive little arachnids, but they’re only trying to survive in their own niche. Albeit, that niche is being a blood-sucking pest! Nonetheless, most of the places where ticks like to hang out have to do with the availability of food.
Woodpiles and brush piles are a favorite hang-out spot of mice, snakes, moles, voles, and even small birds. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that ticks are attracted to these places.
Besides a source of food, woodpiles and brush piles also provide shade and help retain moisture.
Ticks Are Attracted To Ecotones
Ecotones refer to the edge between two distinct biological communities. Basically, it’s a fancy word for the space between your lawn and the woods or other environment.
Ticks love to hang out at these edges as people, pets, and critters often walk by, through, and near these ecotones.
A study reported in the Journal of Medical Entomology looked at tick densities in wooded areas versus edge areas (ecotones) and found that adult tick densities were higher in edge environments than in heavily wooded areas.
Ticks are attracted to these areas mainly because of the potential for a food source. Wildlife that is attracted to your yard for one reason or another is bound to pass through the ecotone to get to your yard and then pass through again on their way back to cover.
Ticks take advantage of this distinct line between zones and wait for the opportunity to scurry onto a deer or unsuspecting mouse. Or your pet!
Ticks Love To Latch Onto Wildlife
This one may be obvious. But what’s not so obvious is that when you make your yard attractive to wildlife, you are inviting ticks into your yard.
Ticks will feed on just about anything – deer, opossums, chickens, cows, mice, chipmunks, dogs, and cats. You get the point.
And just because you live in the city doesn’t mean you’re safe from wildlife-riding ticks! Suburbs and city limits have become home to many adaptive animals like coyotes, pigeons, squirrels, rats, and raccoons.
The trick is to make your yard as unattractive as possible to keep wildlife out of your yard and, subsequently, keep the ticks out of your yard.
But more on that later!
Ticks Prefer To Hide Out In Leaf Litter
As we mentioned before, ticks love cool, moist environments. They like shade, too. Leaf litter provides everything a tick needs all in one place.
Keeping your lawn free of leaves may seem like an impossible task, especially in the fall. However, if you want to keep ticks out of your yard, raking and cleaning up your yard’s leaf litter is a great place to start.
Leaf litter harbors small animals like mice, moles, voles, and rats. Ticks that are in their nymph stage will often feed on these smaller animals that make runways out of fallen leaves.
Leaves on the ground help to retain moisture beneath them, which is attractive to ticks since they can dry out. Take special care in the fall when the weather is cool, the ground moist, and fallen leaves are plentiful.
Ticks Are Attracted To Tall Grass
I used to work at a job where I had to walk through tall grass all day long. Believe me, ticks LOVE tall grass! I had them crawling all over me.
Similar to other attractants, tall grass provides ticks with shade and a food source. Tall grass provides hiding places for a myriad of wildlife that ticks can feed on.
The way it works is that ticks will climb up grass shoots and wait for something to pass by. As a critter, pet, or person walks by and brushes up against the grass shoot, the tick is transferred to the passerby.
Thankfully, ticks cannot jump, fly, or drop from trees. They simply crawl onto the passerby. As soon as the tick climbs aboard, they immediately begin crawling up.
According to the University of Rhode Island, the reason ticks crawl upwards is that they are in search of the head, neck, or ears of their host. The head and ears provide thin skin that can be easily penetrated, while the neck is typically a difficult place for animals to groom and remove ticks.
Ticks Absolutely Love People And Pets
It’s no secret that ticks are attracted to living organisms. Once they hatch from an egg, tick larvae must begin feeding on a host to molt into nymphs and eventually into adult ticks.
While wildlife may be more accessible, people and pets work just as well. Those who have indoor-outdoor animals should be especially careful when their pets come back inside.
Dogs and cats can both carry ticks on them, but farm animals are at risk too. Sheep, chickens, guinea fowl, cows, goats…you name it, and ticks will feed on it.
People who hike or work in their yard are also susceptible to picking up these unexpected hitchhikers. Unfortunately, some ticks are so small that they are difficult to detect.
The American dog tick is one of the largest ticks and relatively easy to catch. The black-legged tick is incredibly small and difficult to detect, measuring only 1/8th of an inch.
Ticks make it even more difficult to detect them due to special saliva that numbs the skin before they bite. Tick bites are rarely noticed and are nothing compared to a spider bite or the sting of a wasp.
How To Repel Ticks And Keep Them Away For Good
There are a lot of hiding places where ticks can hang out and wait for you or your pets to walk by. The good news is that there are steps you can take to keep ticks out of your yard and away from your pets.
Let’s take a look at each attractant and see how you can reduce or eliminate the attractant to keep ticks away.
- Cool temperatures, shade, and moisture: Trim/prune trees to provide more sun to shady locations that harbor ticks. Allow soil to dry completely before watering your garden or flower beds.
- Densely wooded areas: If you must travel in the woods, check yourself carefully before going back inside your home. Wear light clothing to easily identify ticks climbing up your pants leg. If taking pets, check them thoroughly before allowing them back inside the house.
- Stone walls: Check for any opening leading inside from stone walls such as electrical outlets or plumbing. Use caulking to seal holes. Keep trees and bushes near stone walls trimmed to prevent shading the walls.
- Woodpiles: Keep woodpiles stacked and orderly and, if possible, off the ground. Inspect wood before bringing it inside. Clear brush piles from the lawn as soon as possible.
- Ecotones: Create a barrier with stone or mulch between the woods and your lawn. Try to keep this area sunny and free of plants/trees to eliminate tick hiding spots.
- Wildlife: Make your yard less attractive to deer, mice, and other wildlife. Keep your garbage secure. Use a birdfeeder catcher such as Seedy Living Black Bird Seed Catcher Tray to prevent seeds from falling on the ground and attracting mice.
Keep your garden secure from deer, skunks, opossums, and other critters by building a fence. Keep pet food stored inside and do not leave leftover food or food scraps outside.
- Leaf litter: Rake up leaves in the fall and dispose of them according to local ordinances. Avoid allowing leaves to pile up in the yard, especially in shady locations.
- Tall grass: Keep your lawn mowed. Create a mulch or gravel barrier between un-mowed fields and your lawn
- Pets and people: After walking in tall grass or other areas where ticks may be hiding, check yourself for the presence of ticks. Pay close attention to your head, behind your ears, and on the back of your neck.
Use treatment on your pets to prevent fleas and ticks. Examples include spot treatments, tick collars, and chewable tablets. Always be sure to get the right treatment for your pet’s size.
If you find a tick on your or your pet, immediately remove the tick using needle-nosed tweezers. Another option is to use a tick remover such as TickCheck’s Tick Remover. This product comes with a bonus identification card to help you figure out what kind of tick has bitten you or your pet.
Tick removers also help remove the entire tick, including the mouthparts, which can sometimes become lodged in the skin even after pulling the rest of the tick out. Yuck!
To prevent ticks from biting you in the first place, you can treat your clothing with permethrin such as Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent for Clothing, Gear & Tents. Always follow the directions on the label, as this product is not meant to be used on the skin.
You can read more about bug sprays that work on ticks in our other article!
That’s All For Now!
It can be troublesome to find ticks on your pets, in your yard, or even crawling on your skin and clothes. These tiny arachnids feed off of blood and are known to bite humans just as fast as they bite wildlife and pets.
One way to avoid ticks altogether is to know what they are attracted to and make haste to eliminate these attractants.
To recap, the 11 things that attract ticks include:
- Cooler temperatures
- Moist environments
- Densely wooded areas
- Edges between lawn & woodland (called ecotone)
- Leaf litter
- Tall grass
- Pets & people
Take steps to keep your yard unattractive to wildlife as well, as they can be carrying ticks on them. This is especially true of white-tailed deer and mice.
Keep you and your pets tick-free by using veterinary-approved flea treatments for pets and permethrin-based sprays or DEET-based sprays for you and your clothing.
Estrada-Pena, A. (2001, July 12). Forecasting habitat suitability for ticks and prevention of tick-borne diseases. Veterinary Parasitology, 98(1-3), 111-132.
Piedmonte, N. P., Shaw, S. B., Prusinski, M. A., & Fierke, M. K. (2018, November). Landscape Features Associated With Blacklegged Tick (Acari: Ixodidae) Density and Tick-Borne Pathogen Prevalence at Multiple Spatial Scales in Central New York State. Journal of Medical Entomology, 55(6), 1496-1508.
Rynkiewicz, E. C., & Clay, K. (2014). Tick community composition in Midwestern US habitats in relation to sampling method and environmental conditions. Experimental and Applied Acarology, 64, 109-119.
Telford, S. R. (2017, January). Deer Reduction Is a Cornerstone of Integrated Deer Tick Management. Journal of Integrated Pest Management, 8(1), 25.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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