Lone star ticks are named for the single white spot on the backs of the adult females. The spot can vary from cream to bronze/gold and can even appear iridescent at close range. Females are about 1/4 inch long, and 1/2 inch or longer when fully engorged. Adult males have lightly colored patterns the outside of their bodies.
Most lone star ticks are found in the southeastern United States. However their range also extends north, and includes southern and coastal Maine. They aren’t as predominant as other species found in New England, but they are being found more than in the past. They tend to be found near rivers and streams where animals rest. Unlike the other three types of local ticks, lone star ticks have been known to move long distances in pursuit of hosts and “hunt” them. They also prefer shrub undergrowth and dry, forested areas.
Lone star ticks feed on the blood of their host. The hosts can range from small animals like chipmunks and mice, all the way up to deer and humans.
Like the other ticks in the New England are, lone star ticks are three-host ticks. This means that they need to feed on a different host at each level of development in order to complete their lifecycle. The three levels are larva, nymph, and adult. The most common host for all three stages is the white-tailed deer. However, they feed on a wide variety of animals, including humans. Lone star ticks are vectors of serious diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, and STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness), and alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is an allergy to red meat that develops in some people after the bite of a lone star tick.