The Most Dangerous Tick? The One You Don’t See

May 18, 2018
Ticks on a poppy seed muffin
CDCDo you see the ticks on this poppy seed muffin? There are five of them.

Ticks are arguably the nastiest, most pernicious, most maddening outdoor threat we face here in the Northeast. I hate them, these vectors of disease, who crave adherence to my flesh, to inflate with my blood. So nasty.

In early spring, adult ticks resurface after laying low through the winter. They are larger and easier to spot than what comes next. The nymphs. The damn nymphs. They are tiny. How tiny? Well, this tweet from the CDC—which grossed out the internet earlier this month—tells it all.


As a refresher, ticks have a two-year, three-stage life cycle. Hatched as larva in the spring, they use their first blood meal to grow and transform into their next phase the following spring, the tiny nymph. That first blood meal, however, also often comes with a side course of disease from the animal host—deer, squirrel, rabbit, etc.—which then transmits the disease to the nymph (most notably Lyme disease, though there are other bad ones that have become increasingly common.)

Then the disease-carrying nymphs are out, peaking from May through July in the Northeast, lurking in brushy landscapes in tiny, poppy-seed-sized mayhem, questing for a second blood meal to molt and become an adult tick.

And those damn nymphs are easy to miss, especially if you don’t regularly, and thoroughly, check yourself. In my household, we have a nightly head-to-toe, bend-over-please full body inspection for my two boys, age 8 and 6, who routinely romp in the woods and outdoors, as any youngster should. You should check yourself similarly, at least anytime you’re out and about in the brushy landscape of the Northeast.

We’re just at the beginning of peak nymph season in the Northeast, which means you should be doubly vigilant, because these tiny critters are the most likely to get you because they’re so easy to miss. Indeed, the majority of people afflicted with Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses never saw the tick that bit them. When the culprit is the size of the period at the end of this sentence, it’s easy to see why.

But do not let ticks terrorize you or stop you from reveling in the outdoors. Instead, be empowered. Know the risk…and know what it takes to stop these little bloodsuckers. I’ve written plenty about the various repellents, techniques, and new gear, you should use to minimize your risks. And for more, check out the extensive resources available at the Tick Encounter Resource Center, which is based at University of Rhode Island.

So get out there and enjoy. In my world at least, the ticks will never win. I encourage you to be similarly empowered.

Hike on!


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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.