Fall is my favorite season, but spring is a close second. If there wasn’t so much mud, it would win. In central NY, the forest floor is covered with wildflowers and the trees are turning green. Everything is growing.
Two of my favorite things are plants and bugs. I can experience both by wandering around in the woods. This week I’ve hiked, camped, ridden my horse through trails, pulled weeds from the garden, and spent about four hours mowing grass. All these activities bring me great joy, but they are also risky. Amidst the leaf litter and at the tips of grass and branches, I know there are ticks waiting for their next meal.
There are many different kinds of ticks across the U.S. and each is a little unique. If you want to know the risks in your area, contact your cooperative extension office (http://www.nifa.usda.gov/Extension), health department, or browse the pages of http://tickapp.tamu.edu. This post will be about the hard-shelled ticks that are most likely to transmit disease to our pets or us.
What you need to know about ticks is that they need to drink blood. Just like bed bugs, it’s their only food. If you want to know the difference between ticks and bed bugs, check out the Southern IPM Center’s blog post on the topic at http://ipmsouth.com/2012/04/16/the-difference-between-bed-bugs-and-ticks/.
Ticks have four life stages—egg, larva, nymph, and adult. They take a blood meal at the larval, nymphal, and adult stages. They attach to the host while feeding, but when they’re full they drop off. That means they may feed on a different animal or person for each meal. That’s how disease organisms like Lyme get transmitted between different animals.
A likely story of a blacklegged (“deer”) tick:
Early in the spring, the egg (often in leaf litter) hatches. The emerging larval tick is tiny, hungry, and she’s on the ground. She grabs onto a white-footed Mouse that is carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. As the tick feeds on the mouse, she gets both the blood and bacteria. Once full, she drops off and molts into a nymph. Then it gets cold and she goes dormant—perhaps nestled in a pile of grass clippings.
The next spring, she wakes up hungry—or should I say thirsty—for another meal. This time she’s a little bigger, about the size of a poppy seed. She crawls up about two feet to the tip of a piece of grass and catches a ride on a deer that wanders by. As with the mouse, she feeds, drops off, and molts to a bigger size.
When the tick dropped off, the deer was wandering through someone’s lawn. Having grown to an adult, she’s hungry again. So she crawls up a nearby bush and out to the tip of a branch—she’s waiting a few feet off the ground—about the height of a tasty human’s waist.
Just her luck, a shorts-wearing man who didn’t put on any tick repellent walks by and brushes her branch. Bingo. She finds some skin and latches on. The man doesn’t check himself for ticks that night and she keeps feeding for more than a day. Still carrying the bacteria from the mouse last summer, she regurgitates and some of the bacteria get in the man. She gets her meal (enough to charge her up for some egg laying outside) and he gets Lyme Disease.
There are many variations to the story. Different types of ticks carry different diseases. Hosts may be squirrels, deer, dogs, kids…anything a tick can grab. The ticks may be waiting to hitch a ride on any vegetation where warm-blooded animals frequent. Many pest management companies offer treatments that can reduce the number of ticks on your property. Regardless, everyone needs to take precautions. For our purposes, the result of successful tick management is no disease transmission to people or pets.
Share this information with residents by using the following sample newsletter article.
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Ticks in our area can transmit disease. Want to know more? Check out http://www.cdc.gov/ticks
Take the following steps to prevent getting bit:
- Wear protective clothing—ideally light colored so you can see the ticks. Long sleeves, pants, socks, and closed-toed shoes help keep them from your skin.
- Use an EPA registered repellent—find one that works for you at http://pi.ace.orst.edu/repellents/
- Perform daily tick checks, especially after being outside.
- Use caution in tick habitats—avoid brushing up against long grass or branches.
- If you find a biting tick, remove it with tweezers. Grab it close to the skin and pull straight out.
- Got pets? Ask your veterinarian about tick preventatives.
Want to know what kind it is? Check out http://tickapp.tamu.edu. Save it for a few weeks, just in case the bit person gets sick and the doctor wants to see it.