Life Cycle of a Deer Tick

The life cycle of the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) takes approximately two years to complete. Their development is dependent on environment and the availability of hosts. Under favorable conditions, they may be capable of developing in less than one year.

All three of the deer tick’s development stages require blood meals from hosts. Deer ticks attach themselves to and feed on one host during the larval stage, another during the nymphal stage and a third during their adult stage. Deer tick larvae and nymphs both molt after feeding.

After laying eggs, female deer ticks die. However, one female is capable of laying up to 3,000 eggs. Six-legged larvae emerge from these eggs and begin to search for a host. Larvae feed for approximately four days before dropping to the ground to molt into nymphs. Resulting nymphs have eight legs and search again for hosts. They, too, will feed and molt into adults.

Larval and nymphal deer ticks prefer small hosts and are more likely to feed on rodents than on large animals. Adults are fond of white-tailed deer and sometimes also feed on humans as hosts. The larval feeding stage is responsible for the tick’s contraction of most diseases, while these diseases are transferred to humans and livestock during the nymphal and adult stages.