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Ticks in Michigan: How to spot them, avoid bites

Tick crawls on stick
The American dog tick is one of the most common species in Michigan. It rarely transmits diseases, unlike the blacklegged tick, whose bite can spread the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in humans and pets.   (Shutterstock)
  • Ticks become more active as temperatures rise 
  • People develop Lyme disease most commonly from being bitten by blacklegged ticks, which can carry the bacteria that cause it
  • People who encounter ticks can identify the species by submitting a photo to the state health department

Michigan residents may pay a price for those warm winter days this year: Experts say people may find themselves spotting more ticks this year.  Ticks, though most active between April and September, can remain active any time temperatures exceed 40 degrees.

“Given our warm winter, I do expect … people seeing more ticks on them when they’re doing tick checks and being exposed to more ticks,” said Kristen Schweighoefer, environmental health director for the Washtenaw County Health Department. “We expect there to be more ticks out in the environment.” 

As people enjoy more outdoor activities they may find themselves coming in contact with different habitats and animals, increasing their chances of spotting a tick either on themselves or their pets. 

“We want to make sure people are checking because you wouldn't necessarily feel the tick bite, but it will bite and attach as it takes a blood meal over a period of hours or days,” Schweighoefer said. 

Common ticks in Michigan 

Ticks are external parasites that survive by attaching themselves to humans, birds and reptiles and feeding off their blood. Some ticks carry viruses, parasites and bacteria, the most harmful being the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which can cause Lyme disease if a person is bitten by an infected tick.

There are over 20 species of ticks in Michigan but the most common are the American dog tick, blacklegged tick (a type of tick that can trigger Lyme disease), lone star tick, woodchuck tick and brown dog tick. 


American dog ticks, “can vector and transmit some diseases to people, but they're far rarer, and the advantage to those ticks is that those ticks are bigger and easily seeable and people can find them and easily remove them,” said Emily Dinh, medical entomologist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “With the blacklegged tick it's a little more challenging because when it's an adult, it's about the size of a big sesame seed or so,” she said.


Most counties in the state have had at least two confirmed cases of exposure to Lyme disease or are known for having blacklegged ticks that carry the disease, according to the health department’s 2024 Michigan Lyme disease risk map.

How to identify ticks

Ticks are small, oval-shaped, flat and wingless. They can range in color grayish-white, brown, black, red-brown, or yellow.  

Removing ticks as soon as you spot them can decrease your chances of contracting any diseases. The Central Michigan District Health Department recommends removing the tick by grasping the head as close to your skin as possible and pulling slowly. 

After the tick is removed, clean the area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol and seal the tick in a clear container for identification. 

You can submit photos to the MDHHS for further identification. 

How to protect yourself

It can be hard to tell if you’ve been on the receiving end of a tick’s bite. Like mosquitoes, their bites are painless but if not properly monitored some tick bites can lead to long-lasting health problems. 

Lyme disease can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, chills, and rashes between three and 30 days after a tick bite, according to the CDC. A red colored rash can appear within days after the bite of an infected tick. The center of the rash may clear as it enlarges, eventually resulting in a “bull’s-eye,” according to the agency.  

If caught early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. However, if it goes untreated more serious symptoms like severe headaches, neck stiffness, facial palsy and nerve pain can occur. 


“Ticks can attach anywhere in your body,” Dinh said.  “They tend to attach in places like hairlines, ears, behind armpits, groins. In other words, places that are hidden.”

She recommends putting clothes in the dryer for a few minutes after returning from outdoors to kill off any ticks that get stuck on your clothes. 

The best ways to protect yourself from ticks

  • Use insect repellent that has at least 20% DEET — an active ingredient found in most insect repellents — picaridin or IR3535. 
  • Wear light clothing so that ticks are easily detected. 
  • Inspect your skin and remove ticks before going indoors. 
  • Shower after being outside.

While avoiding areas where ticks are most prevalent is one way to go, ticks can be found in many places so it may be difficult for people who enjoy outdoor activities like camping and hiking to never come in contact with ticks.

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