Ticks are small spider-like parasites that can be found in Colorado. These creatures have been around for millions of years and are known to feed on the blood of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.
On average, they are between 3 and 5 mm and have versatile life cycles ranging from 24 hours to three years, depending on the species. After being hatched from their eggs, ticks need to frequently consume blood to survive.
Are ticks common in Colorado?
Ticks are pretty common in Colorado, especially at higher elevations and regions with a lot of brush. The tick season usually begins in the spring around March and peaks during May but remains active through the end of summer. These tiny creatures can live as high as 10,500 feet above sea level and are most active in the morning between 6 am and noon.
Types of Colorado Ticks
There are 28 known species of tick in Colorado that can be harmful to people and animals, but five tick types are the most common biters of humans.
Rocky Mountain Wood tick
The Rocky Mountain Wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) lives in the west coast states, Rocky Mountain states, and the southwestern part of Canada. They are prevalent around Colorado from early spring through June and tend to attach to large mammals like humans, dogs, cows, deer, and horses.
Young ones stick to smaller animals like shrews, rabbits, and squirrels. These ticks live at elevation levels between 4,000 and 10,500 feet and are responsible for transmitting Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
American Dog tick
Even though American Dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) are more common in the eastern half of the United States, they appear on the west coast and have been discovered in several Colorado counties. They are most common in the spring and summer and are known to bite medium-sized and large mammals like humans and dogs.
Female dog ticks are the most probably to bite humans. The diseases they can transfer include Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
Soft-bodied ticks (Ornithodoros hermsi) are found throughout western states and commonly burrow in areas infested with rodents and forests between 1,500 and 8,000 feet. When camping by old barns, cabins, or similar structures, extra caution should be taken to avoid contact with these insects.
Unlike many other ticks, soft-bodied ones can live a long time with several feedings and nearly double in size after consuming a large amount of blood. These ticks are known to carry tick-borne relapsing fever.
Brown Dog tick
The Brown Dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) has been found in every US state and is one of the most commonly found on a domestic pet. This tick is unique because it can live its entire life indoors and is most often found living in residential areas instead of outdoor vegetation.
Even though dogs host the majority of Brown dog ticks, they have been known to jump on humans and other mammals. Aside from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, these ticks can also transmit various other lesser-known illnesses to canines and people.
Lone Star tick
Lone Star ticks (Amblyomma americanum) are aggressive biters of humans, mammals, and ground-dwelling birds. Although they haven’t established residency in Colorado, they have been reported in a few Colorado counties, likely traveling in on hosts from other states.
This tick is distinguishable by a single white dot or “star” on its back and has been known to transmit tularemia, STARI, and the Heartland virus.
What diseases do Colorado ticks carry?
Many people associate ticks with Lyme disease, but fortunately, Colorado doesn’t contain the type that carries that particular illness. However, other diseases can be transferred through a tick bite. It’s also important to note that not every tick bite will cause an infection, but being aware is essential.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
RMSF can be a deadly disease if not treated promptly with the correct antibiotics. If bitten by a tick, people should immediately see a doctor for a case as untreated infections of this illness can progress very quickly.
Symptoms can include a rash, fever, vomiting, lack of appetite, headache, stomach pain, and nausea. Rashes occur in almost everyone infected, and they appear a few days after the fever begins.
Colorado Tick Fever
Colorado tick fever is an uncommon viral disease that does not have any official treatments, but the illness isn’t known to be life-threatening. The incubation period can be up to two weeks, and symptoms include chills, fever, fatigue, sore throat, vomiting, aches, and rashes.
Many people infected with the disease will have mild versions of it with tiredness that can last a few weeks, but others may have recurring symptoms for a while.
Tularemia is a bacterial infection that can infect people and animals and has various symptoms depending on where it enters the body. This illness can cause high fevers and ulcers, ranging from mild to life-threatening cases. Treatment with antibiotics is usually successful.
Tick-borne Relapsing Fever
Also known as “TBRF,” this illness is commonly caught sleeping in old wooden buildings, especially cabins in the mountains. Its main symptoms include headaches, muscle aches, and a fever as high as 103℉ that lasts for three days, goes away for a week, and comes back for another three days or so. The process can repeat until treated with antibiotics.
Protection from Tick Bites
While there is no 100% method to avoiding contact with ticks, if you’re planning to camp or hike outdoors, there are a few measures that you can take to protect yourself from them.
Wearing long sleeves and long pants will reduce your chances of a tick attaching itself to you if you brush against it. Long socks that can be pulled over pant leg cuffs help keep them off your legs. Having light-colored material clothing will make it easier to spot them if one lands on you.
Throwing your clothing in the dryer for at least 10 minutes will kill those you didn’t catch after a post-hike inspection.
The most common high-strength ftick repellent is DEET, which has been known to be effective by applying to outer clothing and skin. It contains many of the same ingredients that other insect repellents have.
Avoid Their Habitats
You can lessen your chances of running into ticks if you don’t enter their habitats. Obviously, some hiking or camping areas make this impossible but try to stay in cleared areas or the center of trails to avoid brushing up against as much vegetation as possible.
Do Tick Checks
Many ticks take several hours to latch and start feeding fully, giving people time to look over their bodies and their dogs. It’s important to check areas like armpits, ears, legs, waist, belly button, the back of knees, and hairlines.
How to Remove a Tick
It may be hard to remove if a tick has fully settled on the skin. The best way to take them off is by using tweezers and pulling at them as close to the skin as possible. Try not to crush the insect as you pull because they may be full of blood. Clean and disinfect the area.
It might be good to save the tick between clear duct tape or in a bag with rubbing alcohol in case of symptoms like a rash or fever appearing a few days after its removal. Showing the doctor which type caused the bite could help decide treatment.
Hopefully, the possibility of ticks won’t prevent anyone from exploring Colorado’s beautiful natural areas, but keep this information on hand should you come across one during an outdoor activity.