On occasion you have to walk through some tall grasses just to get to your destination, and therein lies a problem. Ticks, those nasty, blood-sucking little buggers, just hang out waiting for that innocent hiker to get close enough to hitch a ride. The worst part? There’s more than one type of tick!
Ticks are not insects at all, but rather blood-sucking arachnids related to spiders, scorpions, and mites. Just like their cousins, ticks have no antennae, no wings, and eight legs, the better to catch you with, my dear.
Three most common ticks that bite
American dog tick, aka wood tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
Widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains, you find these mostly in grassy areas along hiking trails, sidewalks, and your yard.
They frequently attach to humans and make their way to the scalp. Here, they attach themselves to gorge on blood for a couple of days. Afterward they drop to the ground where the female can lay her 4,000 or so eggs.
The American dog tick does not carry Lyme disease. However, it can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever bacterium (Rickettsia rickettsii).
Lone star tick, aka northeastern water tick (Amblyomma americanum)
Named not for Texas, but for a singular white spot (lone star) on the female’s shield. The male’s shield is ringed with white specks. All stages of the life cycle, i.e., larval, nymph, and adult, are active feeders.
Although not a carrier of Lyme disease, it is known to transmit Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), causing similar, but milder symptoms.
Blacklegged tick, aka deer tick (Ixodes scapularis)
This beast carries the Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) bacterium. The distribution around deciduous forests, along the forest edge, and in grasslands is dependent upon the travels of its main host, the white-tailed deer.
Whereas the other species of ticks are active from April through September, with July being the strongest month, this species thrives from October through May, especially when freezing temperatures do not occur.
The Center for Disease Control recommends a three-step process for tick control:
Step 1: Prevent bites
You can do this by:
- Wearing long hiking pants tucked inside your socks.
- Spraying your exposed body with an EPA-approved repellent containing at least 20 percent DEET, IR3535, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
- Spraying your clothing with insecticides that contain 0.5 percent permethrin. Ticks that come into contact with permethrin-treated clothing usually die in under a minute.
Step 2: Remove them
Once you return to your campsite or home, take the advice of Brad Paisley: I’d like to check you for ticks. First, strip off your clothes and throw them into the dryer for ten minutes on high heat to kill the vermin. Next, inspect that beautiful body thoroughly, including behind the knees, under the arms, and other generally unnoticeable tight areas (this is where a close friend may come in). Finally, take a hot shower within two hours of returning to scrub those minute critters off.
Remember, sometimes they are no larger than a poppy seed.
Should you find a tick that has attached to you, do not panic. Stay calm and remove it by grasping the head with tweezers as close to your body as possible, lift straight up avoiding any twisting or jerking motion. Dispose of the tick in alcohol. Clean the bite with alcohol or soap and water.
Step 3: Check for symptoms
Finally, be alert for flu-like symptoms, e.g., fever, chills, aches and pains. You may also notice a rash expanding around the bite location. This may not happen for several hours. If you experience these, see your doctor right away. Most infections are treatable with oral antibiotics.
Even though Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease have increased over the last few years, do not let that stop you from getting out in nature. Just follow the guidelines and have a safe, enjoyable moment with your Mother Nature.
BTW: Leave those opossums be. They can eat about 5,000 ticks over their short lifespan!
- Dealing with ticks: An expert’s advice
- Warning: If bit by a tick, there’s a 50% chance you’ll get Lyme disease