seed ticks: the devil’s spawn

Lest anyone [re: city folk] think living in the country is all sweetness and light, let me disabuse those folk of that notion in one word: seed ticks.

Okay, it was two words. Sue me. But really, seed ticks are disgusting, horrible, nasty, annoying, and gross. Now, let me tell you how I really feel.


And we live in Tick Central. This is the Tick Ranch. Our main crop is, you guessed it, TICKS. It’s just a fact of life in central NC.

What? You don’t know what a seed tick is?

A seed tick is the larval stage of a tick. They sit in masses of hundreds, if not thousands, in grass, or maybe in some alternate tick dimension where they phase into existence just as one of the kids walks by. Innocently brushing said grass/inter-dimensional portal, hundreds of tiny, teeny seed ticks glom on and begin swarming up the leg or arm at near superluminal speeds. When you notice it, you look down and see this massing army of what looks like moving dirt spreading up your leg and generally what happens next is you freak the fuck out.

Here, look:

Can you see those little dots? Those are about a hundred baby ticks crawling across my hand and up my arm. This is actually a small tick bomb, as a big one can look like mud on your hand, the tick mass is so large. Can you believe I had the presence of mind to stop and take a picture before I washed those mother fuckers off? I can’t.

When this happens, we call it a Tick Bomb, as in, “Mom! I just got tick bombed!”

If you don’t get the ticks off, they bite in, leaving tiny, blister-like bites that itch for weeks, months even. Seed ticks supposedly are too small to spread Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, so there is that in their favor I guess. I don’t know—if someone introduced me as “At least she doesn’t carry any major diseases,” I don’t think it would be a huge compliment. Just saying.

When we were looking at this land to buy, we hired a semi-realtor dude to come out and handle the paperwork for us. He came out to walk the land with us with the seller’s realtor—I guess this is normal, like having your lawyer present or something. Anyway, we warned him about the ticks. We told him to take preventative measures. But he totally dismissed this and showed up in slacks and loafers. He later told me that no amount of money from the sale of that land could make up for the torture-by-itching that he experienced from all the tick bites he got on that walk.

So what ARE preventative measures? Well, some people use the chemical method, some people use the barrier method. For the ticks, I mean. For example, people try to keep the ticks away with tall boots, sprayed down with poisonous toxins. This can do all right, unless you get ticks on your arms. And if you spray your whole self, there you are, covered in poison. No thank you. Other people say to tuck in your clothes tightly, putting your pants into your socks, that sort of thing, in an attempt to keep the ticks on the clothes and off your skin. They they toss the clothes in the washer. But I’ve seen ticks come out of the washer alive (obviously they are the scourge of the earth, a mix of nuclear waste and the Undead), and one or two or ten always seem to get through anyway and bite you in the armpit, or along the elastic of your underwear. I HATE that.

Here’s a weird one: I used to put a super thick layer of lotion or vaseline around my ankles. The ticks couldn’t climb any higher than the lotion (they would get stuck in it) and I could just wash my feet after the walk and be done with it. I did this until one summer I got about 200 bites on my left foot and decided even localizing the torture wasn’t good enough.

What to do?

The first thing is when you see this:

Don’t Panic!

And the second thing to do is pull out some TAPE.

Because look:

Tape pulls those ticks right up! I’ve gotten tick bombed so bad at times that the tape has been wall-to-wall ticks. DISGUSTING! We NEVER go on walks in the woods around here without tape.

Look at what the macro feature on my camera does to that tape:

Can you see their evil little legs??? They are about the size of the head of a pin. Smaller. There have been a couple of times where we have been out on a walk and forgotten the tape. Someone gets bombed and we just run for the yurt, yelling. It’s pretty funny. “Tick Bomb! ARRRGGGG!!!” We make a joke about it, to stave off the horror and panic. And I buy lots and lots of tape. It never hurts to have extra.

You can pop seed ticks between your fingernails if you’re feeling vengeful, or you can burn the tape, maybe, and maybe do a little victory dance around the flames.

I knew a gal who lived a couple of miles from here who thought she had a spider infestation in her carpets—you could run your hand across the shag and a little hail of tiny bugs would spring up out of them. SEED TICKS. The exterminator was so grossed out he went home to take a shower. She was from the north and had never seen ticks before. Her dogs had brought them in. NASTY. Don’t worry, every one lived. And they didn’t even have to burn down the house.

Moral: don’t give up walks in the beautiful woods. Don’t live in fear! Just don’t leave home without your tape.

Finally, although this post is about ticks, look at what a yellow jacket did to little Sophie’s hand:

Poor baby! It swelled up so much she couldn’t make a fist. Mean old yellow jacket.

There are a few advantages to living in town. Not getting Tick Bombed is one of them.

ETA: There is quite a discussion in the comments section on this post. Including a longish reply from me that talks about how to get them off, once they have bitten in. Scroll down to find it—look for the bold print if you don’t want to read the other comments—especially if you’re googling because you’ve got ticks on you and you are freaking out. 🙂

343 thoughts on “seed ticks: the devil’s spawn

  1. Jeff Nolan

    Must comment. 20 MULETEAM BORAX. Boron is like razor blades to them but is harmless to us. Make a ‘saltshaker’ with jar and icepick lid. Sprinkle everywhere after vacuuming. It’s the ONLY remedy for fleas in the house. Like it’s name, the seed tick grows into an adult after getting a quick bloodmeal for a day. You must kill them before they leave the host to hide (for 3 weeks I heard) and develope into an adult. The adult then feeds for a couple days (a ‘beaner’ or blood bag) , drops off, eggs hatch, new cycle begins. Got a puppy from a farm. Got home and freaked out. Covered. Flea and tick shampoo and a comb. The other 10 puppies died.

  2. Alyce Quinn

    Maya, can you point me to where in the lengthy comment section you address the issue of removing these scourges once they’re attached? I looked through several pages but couldn’t find it.

  3. Reese Armstrong

    Maya, I read ur post about seed ticks. I have found them in my bed and then all over the house. I have three dogs and a cat. I have had a very expensive heat treatment done to my house. This is the day after the heat treatment. I have just found these little specks in my bed again. All four animals sleep on top of my bed. They must be coming from one of my animals. I believe it may be the cat as she roams around the woodsy neighborhood. The dogs do not. WHAT IN THE WORLD CAN I DO TO GET RID OF THEM. PLEASE PLEASE HELP MY. I AM SIXTY-EIGHT AND LIVE ALONE. AND AM BEING EATEN ALIVE. PLEASE PLEASE HELP ME.

  4. Valerie Balch

    To: Reese Armstrong

    I am so sorry about the seed tick invasion! I had an “invisible” enemy in my bed for years…at least the seed ticks can be seen! Perfectly round, usually black and sometimes clear but visible. Douse your babies with Frontline Plus. Use a separate sheet on top of the bed. Put it in the dryer every day for a few days until they die off.

    If you ever have the tiny invisible “bites”, you are not insane (yet)…but after years of not knowing what was wrong, PLEASE let me help….I hope there is a CVS near you. Get the spray that is CVS brand “Lice” Bedding Spray. It will kill all the MF’s that torment you. Pull down the covers and spray then leave for a while so that it can take effect.

    That should do it. The invisible enemy was chewing lice!! Years of chewing lice!

    If you really want to go nuts, there is a spray called “Ortho Home Defense Bedbug Killer”, but it is much stronger and should be used on your bare mattress and completely allowed to dry before putting sheets on. It is serious stuff! I only had to use it once! Oh, I have 8 cats and have a kitty that came home with the seed ticks. Frontline did it, but she itches and then hurts from the nasty “wounds”. I never knew seed ticks existed until a couple of years ago and it is quite the scourge, but YOU WILL PREVAIL! I don’t know what happened to Maya, but hopefully I helped.

    Your problem will fade away in no time. Sock it to ’em!! Valerie Balch from Griffin, Ga.

  5. TK

    I just found this post after being “bombed” and gave you a shout-out on my blog post. I feel sorry for anyone encountering this for the first time, it was terrifying!

  6. Lisa

    Just had an experience as a first timer! I freaked out! In front of everyone! ???? screaming “lime disease”

    We all jumped in the pool because someone told us too! It was awful, so I ran home to shower and Google. Now I’m here reading this lovely blog to calm me down!


  7. Dan

    I live in the city but spent my childhood roaming around the woods of southern Ohio and never experienced such a thing. Came back for a few days and spent a few hours back in the woods only to get “tick bombed” myself yesterday. I think most of these microticks are off my body now, but there are about 100 bites scattered all over my body, mostly on my legs. I think I’m going to use the permethrin shampoo just to give me some peace of mind that all the things are gone, and then I’ll just have to tough out the itchiness for the next week or so.

  8. Dustyn

    HELP! How do I get swollen seed ticks off my dog? Ive done a flea and tick bath and about 4 days later did a dawn bath. They are falling off him but I know they aren’t dead and there are still MANY on him. Please help!

    1. Debra Taylor

      Seresto collar…..last for 8 months and kill ticks and fleas when nothing else will. No odor or mess. Initially I thought the $40 price tag high, but after finally finding something that works and is easy to use, I was sold. Now both dogs and my cat get a new Seresto collar every spring.

  9. Linda jones

    My son just got tick bomb. I grow up in the country, but never encountered being tick bombed. When my son showed me all the little bugs on his anklesa, the first thing he said was mom go to “Google” and I found your post. Thank you the tape removal worked very well.

  10. Sarah

    So I recently got tick bombed while out backcountry camping in Kentucky. My appreciation of this article knows no bounds. I had no idea at first what these little black bugs all over me were, or how to handle them, ended up going to the hospital to have a doctor remove all of them from my back and scalp that I couldn’t get myself. He sent me home with a shampoo/creme meant for lice that I was told would kill off any remaining ones we missed. Also, the itching, you think you’re safe because its been like 4-5 days, but then it creeps back. I’ve been noticing so many little blistered bite marks that I didn’t even pull a tick from, so they must’ve feed and left before I even got home from camping!

    But, now for my actual question for anyone who might have insight:
    As soon as I got home and realized that they were a living bug crawling and burrowing on me, I immediately took my backpack and clothes back out to my car. I have been told some conflicting info regarding how long these little suckers can survive without a host. I’ve been told to leave my car for 4 days, some have said at least a week to be safe. Luckily it has been very hot so leaving my car sit outside has turned it into an oven during the day, so I can only imagine that helps kill them off as well. But, more or less, how long should I leave my car sit before attempting to take out my gear/clothes/etc. to wash and shake out before bringing into my apartment?? Any info on their lifespan/time without a host they can survive would be very appreciated!

  11. Susann

    We live in the country with wooded area and pasture and one of my extra large dogs must of ran thru a tick nest because her limbs were covered in seed ticks. The ticks have bee so bad here this summer that I did 6 1/2 hrs of research online to discover never use any of those harmful chemicals on pets, the collars are supposed to be the worst. Think about if a tick bites your pet and dies, how good can that be for your pet? Those chemicals effect the central nervous system of the animal. So many cases of paralysis and death. So freakin sad!! After doing my research I started using apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle with 1/2 water. I make on the strong side only because we are in the country and put a little in my dogs food and water too. It’s been a God send. Even with our one dog running thru a nest. Before I washed all the blanket and bedding, I put them in dryer on high heat to ensure ticks would die. I keep my ACV spray bottle handy and every time our dog Heidi scratches/bites an area,I spray the vinegar on it. We also just have area rugs in our home and got a bunch of cheap salt to throw down and left it overnight. Make sure you vacuum first thing next morning or your pets will have the salt all over their paws???? Not good!! My last tip is when spraying fogs down with the 1/2 water 1/2 apple cider vinegar, make sure to get their, limbs and under carriage really good. I also cover their eyes and do a little on top of their heads, neck even under collar, and rub some on the sides of their faces with my hand. Please check your dogs thoroughly and often. The hardest thing I’ve been dealing with about moving to the country is how people dont take care of their dogs. This makes me crazy!! Especially when I see one covered in ticks or kept on a chain. I just want to rescue the dog and put the person on the chain and cover them with ticks and see how they like it!!

  12. Mandy

    Thank you so much for taking the time to blog about tick bombs! I HATE them as much as you do it seems! My husband, my son, and I all got ticked bombed while on a bicycle trail yesterday, deep in the woods! I had a full on panic attack, included with throwing down my bike while running to the opening of the woods to frantically try and brush off the already stuck Lil Devils! I swear I’ve had nightmares that weren’t as horrifying as that experience! Two hours of duct tape, hot showers, checking every inch of my extremely long hair, and screaming never again, never again, and we woke up to find a few we missed! God only knows how! My concern is that since we did miss two, should we do full on stripping sheets, borax carpets, the whole nine?

  13. sarah

    September 2nd I went for a hike in long island new york and got tic bombed. However I am pretty sure not until I went out of the woods and off of the trail onto the side of the highway that it happened. I was itching badly and jumped in the pool which did not kill them of course and took a very hot shower. My cousin worked on one leg and I worked on the other for two hours picking them off with tweezers and using tape. Peroxide does not wotk!. As well used Vaseline. Went to the er that night and the secretary nurse and doctor never heard of tic bombed. The doctor prescribed me cream but didn’t even really the a look at my leg and just said take a hot shower they should come right off. I was beyond pissed because two days after there were hundreds of bites in my feet and legs. Itching was horrible and the itching stopped about three days ago September 13th. But I still have all these gross bites. When do the bites start going away.? I was also paranoid that I brought then back with me to sf but no sign of them. Can someone tell me how long it takes for the bites to go away ?

  14. Cassie

    I’ve lived in the country for some time, this particular spot for eight years now. I have never encountered seed ticks or a tick bomb until this week. I’ve been walking through our woods before without issue many times. On Thursday, our pair of pigs escaped and we spend about 24 hours trying to track them down, much of that time traipsing through woods behind peoples’ homes. When I got home that night (we hadn’t found the escaped swine by then), I took of my shoes and tight-fitting socks and my husband asked how I’d gotten so much dirt in my sock. My foot was covered in tiny specks. My ankle and leg were, too. I began picking them off thinking it was some kind of dirt and then my sharp-eyed daughter pointed out that they were moving. That’s when I realized why most of them weren’t readily coming off when I washed or scratched at them. They were ticks and they were on tight! Now I’m miserable! I haven’t been this itchy since I woke up after a night of sleeping on a chigger nest at high school church camp. I’m so glad they got me and not the kids, but I liked it better when I’d never heard of them!

  15. Chrishnello

    Holy freak! im a mom on a boyscout camping trip in central NJ. Doing some recon for geocaching, I wandered down a grassy path. I noticed my ankles under my socks itched as I headed back to camp and were covered in tiny “burrs”. Well u know how this story ends- when going to scratch them off a third time i realized they were MOVING.!!!!! Wtf!!! I sent my son into the tent to get the Off bc i didnt want to infest the place and the den mom gave me Clorox handiwipes. Hit the latrines, stripped down and scrubbed with the wipes. They had made it as high as the middle of my back. Then i drenched myself in Off. Of course i forgot to take a change of clothes in my haste so i picked them off my shirt and my sweatshirt, then put my legs thru my sweatshirt arms like pants bc NFW was i putting those jeans back on. I told the other parents that when the paramedics arrive and find me dead it was from all the chemicals. But i had to nuke them and no showers!!! Now i cant stop scratching my scalp bc even though it doesn’t itch there MUST be some in there, right??? I dont SEE any more on me but i cant stop looking!!! Ive camped my whole life all over the US and never experienced this!!! Bleeeccchh!!

    1. Chrishnello

      PS i found this article looking up pictures of ticks vs chiggers. Im soooooo thankful i found this tho im still freaked out !!

      1. Chrishnello

        PPS – Woke up Monday AM (about 48 hours later) to crazy itching all over my ankles, which has moved up my legs — curses! The tender backs of my KNEES!!! Those tiny blisters mentioned by other posters have emerged. I’m finding that the Benadryl clear gel helps….

      2. Chrishnello

        Final note, I swear: I consulted a park ranger later Saturday evening and he told me (1) in these parts of Jersey, they are likely Lone Star Tick larvae (which looks right based on the pic I took of one on my shoe vs internet pics) which are not “as” devils-spawn-ish as Blacklegged (lyme disease carrying Deer) Ticks and (2) Off and Deet just repel — opt instead for spray with PERMETHRIN which KILLS — BUT use it on your clothes (pre-spray, let dry, then don), NOT YOUR BODY. It can last several weeks on clothes/boots.


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