Tick-Borne Disease Ecology: Research Program of Freehold Township
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Risk Assessment

Tick Habitats

Although the ideal habitats for each of the tick species may vary, they all seek environmental conditions that are conducive to survival, host acquisition, and reproduction. For the blacklegged tick, which is very sensitive to hot and dry conditions, the ideal habitat consists of a forested area with a dense shrub layer and deep litter layers. The shrub layer vegetation and litter provide moist, cool conditions, while providing cover and food resources for a variety of hosts. In general, as the density of the shrub layer and depth of the leaf litter declines, so do tick numbers. Further, since hosts seem to be more abundant along forest edges, ticks tend to be more abundant at the margins of woodlands compared to forest interiors. In residential settings, the majority of blacklegged ticks will be found within woods and associated edges, while about 10% occur in landscaped areas, particularly those with dense groundcover plantings. Because of increasing heat and decreasing moisture, ticks are rarely found on lawns beyond a few feet from wooded edge. Curiously, few ticks are found in wetland habitats.

 

risk assessment

Lone star ticks coexist with blacklegged ticks in these types of forested habitats. However, the lone star tick does not appear to have the same moisture restrictions and survives well in areas with sparse shrub layers and minimal litter.

Since immature American dog ticks feed primarily on meadow voles and other small mammals, it is more frequently encountered in old-field environments, along trails and paths, pastures, and along the wooded margins of forested areas. Along forest edges, it is not uncommon to collect adult American dog, lone star, and blacklegged ticks in a single survey in spring. In more urbanized settings, the American dog tick inhabits overgrown areas, such as vacant lots and rights-of-way, where adults tend to feed primarily on dogs.

The brown dog tick is unique among the medically important ticks of New Jersey in that it has adapted to indoor environments. In colder climates, it completes its entire life cycle indoors and can become a serious pest in kennels and residences, using dogs as the host for all active life stages. Cracks and crevices in these structures provide protected areas. Because of favorable conditions within the structures and the ready availability of hosts, the life cycle may be completed in several months.

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