Do Winter Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

When people think of tick season, they tend to picture warm days spent hiking in the woods. While spring and summer are typically referred to as “tick season,” the truth is that ticks can be active all year round. This is because there are many different types of ticks that thrive in different conditions.

For example: the black-legged tick is mainly thought to be active during the warmer seasons, but can survive in temperatures that are just above freezing. Other types of ticks – mainly the Gulf Cost tick and the Lone Star tick – are also both fairly active in the winter months.

In areas of the US where there are mild temperatures throughout every season, including winter, ticks are still able to thrive – and because of this, they are still an active threat year-round. Another factor that comes in to play when it comes to a tick’s survivability in the winter is climate change, which has driven changes in temperatures during the winter months that have affected the way ticks live (and die).

winter hiking

Image by freestocks on Unsplash: Snow can act as an insulator for dormant ticks, which helps them make it to the following spring. 

Do ticks die in the winter?

Many people may think that ticks die off in the winter, but that isn’t true. Ticks are highly adaptable, and if winter temperatures become too cold for them to thrive, they can simply “go dormant.” This means they go into a form of hibernation known as diapause.

In some cases, ticks may also attach themselves to a host during the winter, which helps them survive. If a tick does go dormant because it lacks a host or the temperature becomes too cold, they do not require food and can wait out the cold. During their dormancy, ticks hide in burrows, underground, or under leaf litter. When snow falls, it actually acts as an insulator for the dormant ticks, helping them survive through the winter.

The stage of a tick’s lifecycle, as well as its species, plays into whether it survives the dormant months. For example, even though ticks tend to require a host within 30 days of their last feed, some adult ticks can live dormant for up to 600 days without feeding. This means that even if a tick is not active, it can still survive the winter months.

Can you get bitten by a tick in winter?

You can get bitten by a tick in the winter, but the likelihood is lessened for several reasons. For example, even if the weather is mild and ticks are still out looking for hosts, chances are your skin will be more thoroughly covered up in colder temperatures, which gives ticks less of an opportunity to latch on.

In areas where temperatures aren’t cold enough to warrant layers of clothing and complete covering of exposed skin, ticks can latch on the same as they would during the warmer months. Winter weather can often also involve series of increasing and decreasing temperatures. When a few cold days occur, followed by a stretch of unseasonal warmer weather, ticks can “wake up” from their hibernation and seek out a new host.

Black-legged ticks that do reach out for a host during those warmer days of winter do so because they did not get a full meal prior to the end of the fall season. Adult female ticks also require a full meal before dormancy to ensure they can lay their eggs the following spring, so when that happens, they have to take every advantage they can to latch on to a host, regardless of the season.

person hiking in woods in winter season

Image by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash: What time of year do ticks carry Lyme disease? All year round.

Can you get Lyme disease in the winter?

The black-legged tick, as mentioned above, is the most likely spreader of Lyme disease in the United States. While black-legged ticks are far more active in the spring and summer months, their typical season begins in late March and goes through to November. That being said, if the weather permits their continued survival, they can be active for much longer – well into the winter.

Because of this, contracting Lyme disease in the winter is entirely possible, even if it is less likely. Ticks don’t do their best hunting during the winter, so there is less of a chance that an infected tick will latch on to you. This isn’t to say that you should let your guard down during the winter months when spending time outdoors, though. You should continue to take precautionary measures during the winter months to ensure you aren’t infected by a Lyme-carrying tick.

Ticks that carry Lyme disease can be a threat all year round, especially if temperatures in your area don’t drop below freezing during the winter months. Since Lyme disease is a threat whenever those ticks are active, it’s best to keep up with safety precautions to ensure you don’t contract an infection at any point throughout the year.

Featured image by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

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