A seed tick is a tick that is in the larval stage of its life. Ticks are tiny parasites that survive by drinking the blood of humans and other animals. The larval stage occurs just after the tick hatches from an egg, but before it finds its first blood meal.
In this article, we explain what a seed tick is, what it looks like, and whether it is dangerous. We also provide information on how to treat and prevent tick bites.
Ticks are a type of parasite that survives by feeding on the blood of various animals, including humans. Ticks belong to a class of creatures called arachnids, which also includes spiders, mites, and scorpions.
A seed tick is a tick that is in the second stage of its life cycle. There are four life stages in total. These are:
- Stage 1: the egg stage
- Stage 2: the larval stage
- Stage 3: the nymph stage
- Stage 4: the adult stage
For a tick to move through each of its life stages, it must find an appropriate host on which to feed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ticks typically require a new host for each stage of their life cycle.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tick larvae range in size from 0.5–1.5 millimeters.
Ticks in the larval stage appear pale in color and have only six legs, whereas ticks in the nymph and adult stages are darker in color and have eight legs.
Seed ticks are in the earliest active stage of their life cycle. During this stage, they are capable of attaching themselves to humans and other animals.
According to a 2019 case study, seed ticks often attack in large groups. If they come into contact with a human, they can cause pustules and papules to form on the skin. However, it is not clear whether seed ticks are capable of spreading disease-causing pathogens.
Tickborne diseases occur when a tick contracts an infection and then passes it on to the next host. It is possible that seed ticks will not be carrying pathogens because they have not yet fed on a host.
Once a tick has attached itself to a host, it may crawl around in search of a suitable place to bite. Ticks will typically search for places where the skin is thinner and easier to penetrate.
According to the CDC, once the tick finds a suitable entry point, it creates a small cut in the skin. It then inserts a feeding tube into the cut. Some tick species have barbed feeding tubes that help anchor them in place while feeding. Others secrete a substance that keeps them attached to the skin.
When they are attaching, some ticks secrete a small amount of saliva into their host. The saliva has anesthetic properties that prevent the host from detecting the presence of the tick.
Once attached, the tick will slowly suck the blood of its host. It may continue feeding for several days. During this time, if the tick is carrying a pathogen, it may transmit the pathogen to its host.
Ideally, people should remove ticks as soon as possible to help reduce the risk of disease. There are several tick removal methods that people claim to be effective.
However, the CDC warn against tick removal methods that involve trying to suffocate the tick, such as applying nail polish or petroleum jelly. Instead, they recommend removing ticks using a pair of fine tipped tweezers.
During removal, the tick’s mouthparts can remain lodged in the skin. Where possible, a person should remove the mouthparts with tweezers. If this fails, they should simply leave the area alone and allow the skin to heal.
Seed ticks are most active during the months of July, August, and September. Therefore, a person is most likely to encounter seed ticks during the summer months.
When seeking a host, ticks will typically wait in leaf litter or on grasses or thick brush. It is possible to pick up ticks in any outdoor area where such vegetation is present. These areas include forests, parks, and gardens.
The CDC offer the following advice to help prevent ticks in the yard:
- Remove leaf litter, tall grass, and brush.
- Trim trees and bushes around yard edges to encourage sunlight to hit the ground.
- Keep grass mowed and trimmed.
- Widen trails that lead through any wild areas.
- Keep pets away from brush and tall grasses.
The Washington Trail Association note that people can help avoid tick bites when hiking by:
- wearing pants and long sleeved shirts
- tucking their shirt into their pants, and tucking their pants into their boots
- using a hat with a neck flap to protect their neck
- wearing lighter color clothes so that ticks are more visible on them
A person may also wish to consider applying a topical insecticide, such as DEET or permethrin. However, they should talk to a doctor or pharmacist before using a topical insecticide, as these products can cause side effects.
There are about 900 species of ticks throughout the world, and experts only know of a few that bite humans.
There are several species of tick in the United States. According to the CDC, the three species most likely to bite humans in the U.S. are:
- blacklegged tick
- dog tick
- lone star tick
In some cases, a person may not realize that a tick has latched onto them. When the tick detaches, the person may have an itchy spot that feels like a regular bug bite. The person may not visit their doctor until they start to show symptoms of a tick-related illness.
With each type of illness, a person may develop a distinctive rash. The rash will differ according to the type of tickborne illness. The CDC provide the following examples:
- Lyme disease: About 70–80% of people who develop Lyme disease will develop a rash in the early stages. The rash typically resembles a bull’s-eye that expands across the skin. However, some people have reported solid, crusty, or blistering lesions.
- Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI): A person may develop an expanding bull’s-eye rash, similar to that of Lyme disease.
- Tularemia: A person may develop an ulcer at the site of the tick bite, along with swelling of the lymph nodes around the groin or armpit.
- Ehrlichiosis: As many as 1 in 3 people with this condition will develop a rash. The rash may appear as splotches or pinpoint dots on the skin. It typically develops within 5 days of a fever.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF): Approximately 90% of people with RMSF develop a rash on the skin of the wrists, forearms, ankles, and trunk. The rash usually consists of flat dots that do not itch. In most cases, the rash appears 2–5 days after the onset of other symptoms.
Seed ticks are ticks in the larval stage of their life cycle. It is not clear whether seed ticks are capable of transmitting diseases, though their bites may cause skin irritation.
A person can take steps to help prevent tick bites. These include maintaining a well-kept yard or garden that is free of leaf debris and tall grasses and wearing suitable clothing when hiking outdoors.
It is not always possible for a person to tell when a tick has bitten them. As such, a person should contact their doctor if they develop a rash or other symptoms of a tickborne disease.