Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nature Guide: Ticks

Ticks are a problem for both people and pets in our area, so it's important to know a little about them. Ticks are one of the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the United States. Our Nature Guide Jon Latimer gives us some information.

"Most people think of ticks as insects, but they are actually arachnids like scorpions, spiders and mites. Ticks are among the most efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood, which they need to survive and reproduce. Because of this, ticks are attracted to humans and their pets. A tick’s bite can transmit a variety of serious diseases, including Lyme disease, tularemia, encephalitis and various kinds of tick fever. Two particularly widespread tick species in our area are the American dog tick and the deer tick.

"The American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, (also known as the wood tick) is one of the most widely distributed ticks in the eastern U.S. Although they are often found on dogs, they will also feed on other mammals such as squirrels, skunks, raccoons and humans. In our area, dog ticks are active from mid-April through mid-August. They are most common along roadsides and paths, and in woodlands and meadows with tall grass or weeds. Pets can bring ticks indoors where they can survive for several days.

"Although the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, (also known as the blacklegged tick) is only about 1/10 of an inch long and difficult to see, they are widely known for transmitting Lyme disease. The deer tick is most often a parasite of White-tailed Deer, which are frequently seen in Princeton Landing. Female ticks attach themselves to a host and drink its blood for several days, slowly swelling in size. After the tick is engorged, she drops off. She spends the winter hidden in leaf litter on the ground. The following spring, she may lay as many as several thousand eggs.

"After a tick egg hatches, the tick passes through three stages as it matures: larvae, nymph and adult. Each stage requires a single meal of blood before the tick can molt into the next form. A tick will attach itself to a different host each time. Ticks are opportunists; they will latch on to any animal that comes near them.

"Ticks have very hard bodies and can be difficult to kill. But in the landscape they can be controlled by relatively simple means. Applying pesticides can greatly reduce the number of ticks in an area. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a single application in early spring can reduce the population of ticks that cause Lyme disease by 68–100%. The CDC recommends removing or pruning trees and shrubs, and applying mulch in spring, which serves as a barrier to a tick's encroachment. Mowing grass, cleaning up leaf litter and pine needles, and limiting the extent of groundcover is also advised to reduce the number of ticks. If you find a tick or fear that a tick has bitten a person or a pet, it is best to seek medical advice as soon as possible."

Photos: American dog tick by James Gathany, CDC
Deer tick by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great info!