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Ticks: A Guide for Trail Enthusiasts

Current evidence identifies 43 tick species in Eastern Ontario, including 13 established, 16 adventive and 14 travel-related.

Disclaimer

This article is solely for educational purposes. We want to offer our support by providing resources on ticks, which you can find at Public Health Ontario (PHO), Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Ontario Trails, to name a few. PHO has collected all references to scientific data, and we acknowledge that this information is based on the best available evidence at the time.

The application and use of this information are the user’s responsibility. The FGTA assumes no liability resulting from any such application or use. What information is used from PHO resources, and according to the PHO, this information may be reproduced without permission for noncommercial purposes only, provided that appropriate credit is given to PHO.

What is a tick?

In biology, a tick is a small arachnid parasite that feeds on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are ectoparasites, meaning they live externally on their host’s body. They use a specialized mouthpart called a hypostome to attach to their host and feed on its blood.

Ticks are known vectors for various diseases, including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tick-Borne Encephalitis. They typically inhabit grassy, wooded, or brush-filled areas where they can easily latch onto passing animals. Ticks undergo several life stages, including larvae, nymphs, and adults, each requiring a blood meal to progress to the next stage.

Controlling tick populations and preventing tick bites is essential for reducing the risk of tick-borne illnesses in humans and animals by taking measures such as wearing protective clothing, using insect repellents, conducting regular tick checks, and treating pets with tick prevention products.

How many tick species are there in Eastern Ontario, Canada?

Eastern Ontario, Canada, is home to several tick species commonly encountered in North America. The most prevalent tick species in this region include:

  1. Black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) – This tick species is the primary vector for Lyme disease in North America and is commonly found in wooded and grassy areas.
  2. American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) – These ticks are often found in grassy areas and fields and can transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
  3. Lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) – While less common in Eastern Ontario than in other regions, lone star ticks have expanded their range. They are known for transmitting diseases like ehrlichiosis and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI).

It’s important to note that tick species distribution and prevalence can vary based on habitat, climate, and host availability. Additionally, new species or changes in distribution patterns may occur over time due to factors like climate change or human activity. Therefore, staying informed about local tick species and taking appropriate precautions to prevent tick bites and tick-borne diseases is advisable.

As of 2023, there are currently 43 tick species recorded in Eastern Ontario, including 13 established, 16 adventive and 14 travel-related species.

Among species established in Ontario, an average of nine species were reported per public health unit (PHU), with the highest number in Sudbury and District and North Bay Parry Sound District (n=12) and the lowest number in Lambton (n=5).

Are you bitten?

The symptoms of Lyme disease can vary and often mimic other common illnesses, making it challenging to diagnose. However, early signs typically include a distinctive rash called erythema migrans, which appears as a red, expanding bull’s-eye shape. Other symptoms may include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to more severe complications affecting the joints, heart, and nervous system.

Prevention:
Preventing Lyme disease begins with minimizing exposure to ticks. Here are some preventive measures for trail enthusiasts:

  • Wear protective clothing:  Dress in long sleeves and pants, and tuck pant legs into socks or boots to create a barrier against ticks.
  • Use insect repellent:  Apply an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET or permethrin to exposed skin and clothing.
  • Stay on trails:  Avoid walking through dense vegetation and areas with high grass where ticks are more abundant.
  • Perform tick checks:  After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check your body, clothing, and gear for ticks. Pay special attention to hidden areas such as the scalp, behind the ears, and in the groin and armpits.
  • Shower after outdoor activities:  Showering within two hours of indoors can help wash away unattached ticks.

 

Treatment:
If you suspect a tick has bitten you or are experiencing Lyme disease symptoms, seek medical attention promptly. Early detection and treatment with antibiotics are essential for preventing disease progression and minimizing complications.

Conclusion:
Lyme disease is a severe health concern for trail enthusiasts, but with awareness and preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of infection. By taking proactive steps to protect yourself against tick bites and recognizing Lyme disease symptoms, you can continue to enjoy the outdoors safely.

Emergency contacts:
To find the nearest healthcare professional or public health unit, call Telehealth Ontario, a free service connecting you to registered nurses on duty 24 hours a day at 1-866-797-0000 (toll-free) or 1-866-797-0007 (teletypewriter).

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