Ticks are small, insect-like creatures that you usually find outdoors. They are related to spiders, scorpions, and mites. They like areas with trees, shrubs, tall grass, logs, and fallen leaves.
Why are ticks important?
- They attach themselves to animals and humans by piercing the skin and taking blood for several days.
- While they are attached and feeding, ticks can transmit tiny living things known as pathogens that can make humans and animals very sick.
- Ticks can transmit disease like Lyme disease, tickborne relapsing fever, and other diseases.
- To learn more about the diseases different ticks can carry, visit the California Department of Public Health’s Guide to Ticks and Diseases they Transmit in California.
When they are not full of blood, hard ticks are shaped like a flat seed and their color can range from reddish/dark brown to a light beige. Ticks that are full of blood turn a greyish color and grow five times their normal size. This is a term known as engorged.
Ticks do not fly or jump, they can only crawl. They detect your smell, body heat, breath, and even vibrations created when you walk. When they feel you get near, they extend their legs to climb on you. This is known as questing.
To learn more about the different kinds of ticks found in the United States, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tick ID webpage.
To learn more about ticks, their behavior, and life cycle visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tick informational page.
Please note we do not test ticks that are provided by the public for possible diseases. For tick testing of possible disease, please contact the County of Santa Clara Public Health Laboratory at (408) 885-4272 or visit their website for more information.
We offer free insect identification for insects, including ticks. For identification requests, please contact us via phone, email, or submit a request online.
How to prevent tick bites
The best way to avoid getting sick from a tick, is to protect yourself from their bites. There are easy steps you can take before, during, and after being in tick habitat.
What should I do before?
- Apply an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. To find the right repellent for you, use the Environmental Protection Agency’s repellent finder.
- Wear long pants, long socks, and closed-toe shoes.
- Tucking your socks into your pants adds another layer of protection.
What should I do during?
- Stay in the middle of trails and avoid touching logs, tree trunks, grassy areas, fallen branches and leaf piles.
- Periodically check yourself, children, and pets for ticks. If you find one crawling on you, brush it off. If you find one attached, remove it quickly.
What should I do after?
- Once you are home, shower or take a bath as soon as possible.
- Check under arms, inside of belly, and between legs.
- Put your dry clothes and gear in the dryer and set to highest setting. Dry for 10 minutes to kill any ticks that are stuck.
If you find a tick attached to you or your pets, properly remove it as soon as possible.
We have a special program to monitor tick diseases in the county. We collect and test ticks from city parks, regional parks, and open space county parks. We mainly collect ticks with the flagging method.
- We attach a white, thick, and fibrous piece of cloth to a pole. This creates our flag.
- We brush the flag on the edge of trails where ticks hang out.
- As we pass the flag, ticks grab onto the flag. After a few feet, we stop and collect the attached ticks and place them into vials filled with ethanol.
- The ethanol kills the ticks but keeps the bacteria within the tick.
- We identify the tick species, group them into groups of five (male and females are separated). This group is known as a pool.
- Then ticks are tested for diseases.
To see what tick flagging looks like, watch our tick flagging video on YouTube.