Terrifyingly Tiny Seed Ticks: Will You Spot Them This Summer?

May 16, 2017 at 12:35 p.m. ET
Image: Dorioconnell/E+/Getty Images

Uh-oh. Scientists are predicting that 2017 is going to be a positively wretched year for ticks — and Lyme disease and the Powassan virus spread by the little buggers. The worst part? There's a kind of tick that most of us haven't had the displeasure of meeting yet, and encounters with them are on the rise. They're called seed ticks, and they're the stuff of nightmares. Really.

Warning: The pictures linked to in this article are pretty graphic, so if you're a tickaphobe (yes, we are sure there's an actual word for that, but we have no idea what it is), you might want to tread lightly. But we think it's important to get the word out about seed ticks — especially if your family and pets spend a lot of time outside during the summer.

More: How to remove ticks without gagging

Beka Setzer, an Ohio mother of two young daughters, posted some disturbing photos on Facebook of her daughter's nasty encounter with seed ticks last summer. Setzer's hope is that the photos — while the stuff of creepy-crawly horror flicks — will encourage other families to keep a close eye on their kids after outdoor play.

It doesn't take long, either, for these ticks to overtake a small child. Setzer's daughter Emmalee was only playing outside for 30 minutes before she was crawling with tiny, poppy-seed-like larval ticks. Despite her mom removing them immediately, Emmalee still became ill from the tick attack.

"I'm putting this out there, just a heads up for parents of kids who love to play outside," Setzer said on her Facebook post. "Emmalee was playing outside yesterday rolling around on the ground while enjoying the sprinkler. After coming inside and laying down for a nap I just happened to notice tiny (and I mean tiny) little black dots all over her legs, abdomen, arms, and armpit area. Thinking they may have just been seeds I tried to wipe then scrape one off and it was a tick! She must've been playing in or near a nest of tick larvae and was covered."


Setzer wound up trying to remove more than 100 ticks from Emmalee's body, but the next morning, Emmalee awoke with horrible spots all over her — and a very swollen lymph node. Yikes!

A doctor prescribed powerful antibiotics and antihistamines to bring down the swelling. Setzer is hoping she can help other parents avoid a scary incident like this. "I want to make every parent aware of what these look like so you can be on the lookout," she said. "They're not as easy to see as the ticks you're likely looking for on yourself or children."

Setzer shared photos of Emmalee's ordeal on Facebook so others can see the insidiously small size of these seed ticks, frequently mistaken for freckles or dirt. And they can hide easily in pet fur too.

More: "Please Don't Kill My Kid" — From a Food Allergy Mom

Seed ticks — like other ticks — can't be brushed off. So keep those tweezers on hand this summer to detach the body and head of any tick you find on yourself or a loved one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends putting the removed tick in a plastic baggie to be tested and then disinfecting the bite site. And when in doubt with any tick, call your doctor. This is serious stuff.