Lone star ticks, Amblyomma americanum, are one of the more easily recognized ticks since the female adult has an easily noticed white dot on the center of her back. Males of the species have white lines or streaks around the edges of the top of their body, but these markings are not as noticeable as the markings on the female. Often, lone star ticks are mistaken for black legged ticks, one of two tick vectors of Lyme disease. However, lone star ticks are not known to transmit Lyme disease.
Lone star ticks are three-host ticks, meaning they take a blood meal from different hosts when in their larval, nymphal and adult stages. After feeding once in each stage, the tick falls to the ground and molts or a fertile adult female lays eggs. Hosts commonly infested by lone star ticks are humans, domesticated animals such as cattle, dogs and horses, ground-dwelling birds, squirrels, opossums and raccoons, plus white-tailed deer and coyotes. Primarily active in May and June, the lone star tick can become active on warm days during the winter and early spring.
Lone star ticks are able to transmit several tick-borne diseases; however, they do not transmit Lyme disease even though people bitten by lone star ticks sometimes develop a rash that is similar to the Lyme disease rash. This rash, if also involving fatigue, headache, fever, muscle and joint pains is a condition called southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). Some other diseases associated with lone star ticks are ehrlichiosis, tularemia and a virus suspected to be transmitted by lone star ticks. This virus, called Heartland virus, was identified in 2012 and as of March 2014, eight cases have been identified among residents of Missouri and Tennessee. Individuals infected with the Heartland virus often experience symptoms like fatigue, fever, headache, muscle ache, diarrhea, appetite loss, and upset stomach.