The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is a disease-spreading arachnid. Like other arachnids — such as scorpions, spiders, and mites — adult lone star ticks have four pairs of legs and no antennae.
Despite its prevalence in Connecticut and other states with a high incidence of Lyme disease, the lone star tick does not transmit Lyme disease. It is not clear whether the lone star tick transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
In this article, we’ll go over the conditions and symptoms that lone star tick bites transmit and how to identify the ticks themselves.
How to spot a lone star tick
Lone star ticks get their name from the large, white, star-shaped dot located on the back of young adult females. Males do not have the star-shaped dot.
Adult females and males are both reddish brown in color. Male ticks have a geometric black pattern on their backs.
When they have fed and become engorged, lone star ticks turn greyish brown.
The larvae and nymphs of both sexes are a translucent yellow.
Lone star ticks have oval to roundish bodies.
Female ticks range in size from 1/8 of an inch when unengorged to 1/2 inch when fully engorged. Male ticks are smaller.
Lone star ticks are aggressive biters that feed on prey throughout their entire lifespan. Larvae, nymphs, and adult ticks bite humans, pets, livestock, and wild outdoor animals. Even though they bite, larvae don’t carry disease.
Tick saliva can irritate your skin, but not every bite transmits disease-causing bacteria or viruses.
Redness and discomfort at the site of a lone star tick bite require medical attention. You can have these symptoms without having contracted an illness.
Diseases spread by lone star ticks include:
Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)
According to the
STARI causes a round rash within
STARI symptoms may include:
- bull’s-eye rash ranging in size from
6 to 10 centimeters
- muscle or joint pain
Ehrlichiosis is an umbrella term for multiple diseases caused by Ehrlichia chaffeensis, E. ewingii, and E. muris eauclairensis bacteria. Infected ticks transmit these bacteria to humans through bites.
Ehrlichiosis symptoms include:
- muscle aches
- nausea and vomiting
Tularemia is a rare, potentially fatal disease with several subtypes. Tularemia is caused by the Francisella tularensis bacteria. The bacteria’s point of entry determines which subtype you have.
Tularemia is also known as rabbit fever or deer fly fever. Transmission to humans occurs through tick bites, mosquito bites, or contact with infected animals or birds. Inhaling the bacteria or drinking contaminated water can also cause transmission.
Symptoms of this condition vary based on the subtype you have. Symptoms can start anywhere from 1 to 21 days after infection, but usually within 3 to 5 days, according to
Tick bites transmit Francisella tularensis through the skin. This entry point causes ulceroglandular tularemia, the most common form of this condition, per
Symptoms of ulceroglandular tularemia include:
- skin ulcer at the bite site
- painful, swollen lymph glands, usually in the armpits or groin
- flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, and muscle aches
The Heartland virus is a potentially fatal virus that is part of the genus Bandavirus. Lone star tick bites can transmit the Heartland virus to humans and animals. It has been found in deer, coyotes, raccoons, and moose.
Symptoms occur within
- joint pain
- high fever
- decreased appetite
Diagnostic testing may identify clinical symptoms including:
- lower-than-typical white blood cells and platelets
- increased liver enzyme levels
Bourbon virus disease
The Bourbon virus is named for Bourbon County, Kansas, where it was first discovered. Lone star ticks and other ticks may transmit this virus.
As of this date, medical professionals have identified a small number of Bourbon virus cases in several Midwestern and Southern states. Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma seem to be the states where infection is most common, according to
Symptoms may include:
- body aches
If you see a lone star tick on your skin, remove it immediately (follow
Don’t use heat or smothering ointments to kill or remove the tick. Don’t try to scrape it off with your fingers.
After removal, wash the bitten area with soap and water. Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet. If you’re not sure what type of tick it is, you may wish to take a picture of it first.
Some commercial labs offer tick testing. Instead of disposing of the tick, you send it to a lab to see if it has a specific bacteria or virus. But the
Let a healthcare professional know you were bitten by a lone star tick. Given the number of diseases transmitted through tick bites, a doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics, even if you don’t have symptoms.
If you see a rash, get a fever, or have any symptoms that may be caused by a tick bite, see a healthcare professional immediately. The diseases that ticks carry can become dangerous or severe if left untreated.
Most people respond well to antibiotics and other treatments.
How to avoid tick bites
Of course, prevention is the best cure. Try to avoid tick bites by wearing tick repellent when you’re in woody or grassy areas. It’s also helpful to wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and high socks.
You can find lone star ticks in dense, woody regions across a wide swath of the eastern United States. It is native to many
As temperatures have risen, the lone star tick’s territory has expanded north, throughout New England. Lone star ticks have been found as far north as Maine.
Ticks carry bacteria and viruses in their saliva. Tick saliva often contains an anesthetic that masks the sensation of being bitten, according to
Ticks transmit pathogens while feeding on their host. These pathogens cause disease in humans, birds, and animals.
Ticks find hosts by detecting the scent of breath or sweat. Some ticks also sense body heat.
Once a tick lands on your skin, it may bite immediately or look for an area to feed upon. Ticks prepare to feed by grasping and cutting the skin.
They then insert a feeding tube into the tiny cut they’ve made. The feeding tube may be barbed, to keep it in place under the skin. Some ticks secrete a goo-like substance that adheres to your skin, holding them firmly in place.
Ticks feed by sucking blood. After they’ve adhered themselves to your skin, they can do this for
If a tick is carrying a pathogen, you may get sick regardless of whether the tick has dropped off or if you’ve manually removed it.
How long it takes for a tick to be attached before it transmits bacteria or a virus to you depends on the disease. According to experts, it can be as little as 4 hours for tularemia or as long as 36 hours for STARI.
How long after a lone star tick bite do symptoms appear?
Lone star ticks have saliva that can irritate and inflame your skin. If a tick bites you, you may notice those symptoms at the bite site immediately.
Other symptoms may become apparent anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks after transmission, based on the bacteria or virus the tick was carrying. Usually, symptoms start to occur within 3 to 5 days.
Can a lone star tick bite cause you to be allergic to red meat?
Lone star tick bites can cause alpha-gal syndrome, a food allergy to red meat that comes from mammals. Such meat includes beef, pork, lamb, and other animal flesh products.
Exposure to alpha-gal, a sugar molecule found in tick saliva, triggers this allergy, according to
Many products contain alpha-gal. Some people with alpha-gal syndrome may also be sensitive to cow’s milk, gelatin, or collagen.
Can my dog transmit diseases from a tick bite to me?
Not usually. Infected animals can transmit tularemia to humans, but most tick-borne illnesses cannot be transmitted this way.
However, your dog can bring infected ticks into your home on its fur. Keeping your dog safe from tick bites protects you and your entire household from tick-borne pathogens. Talk with your dog’s veterinarian to determine what type of tick protection to use.
Lone star ticks are found throughout the eastern United States. They transmit a variety of bacterial and viral infections.
Some diseases that lone star ticks transmit can be serious or fatal. Many tick-borne illnesses respond well to antibiotics and other treatments.
If you see a tick on your skin or display symptoms of a tick-borne illness, let a healthcare professional know right away.