The Scary Facts about Ticks

 

With the changing weather approaching, ticks will be getting more active. The black legged tick (aka the deer tick), which is the vector of Lyme disease, will become active in the next couple of months. One sure fire way to keep ticks out of your yard is to have regular pest control service.

Deer ticks have a unique life cycle that begins in the spring. Female ticks will detach from their hosts starting around mid-late spring. Once detached from their host, the females will lay a clutch of up to 3000 eggs. Those eggs will start to hatch in the summer months and the emerging larvae will begin looking for their first blood meal. The larvae are what most people refer to as seed ticks, and they only possess 6 legs instead of 8. The larvae will take their fill of blood, later detaching from the host to go into diapause (“hibernation”) to survive the winter. In these first feedings, larval ticks will not yet carry or vector (transmit) disease, but they can become infected during feeding; this allows them to transmit the disease later in life.

The second stage in tick development is the nymphal stage. In this stage, the ticks have 8 legs and are about the size of a small poppy seed. During their nymphal feeding, deer ticks may transmit the diseases they acquired while feeding in their larval stage. Nymphal ticks are found feeding starting in late April-early May and peak in early-mid August. After feeding, the nymphal ticks molt into their final male or female adult stages during the late fall.

In the adult stage, female ticks may take a blood meal to prepare for the winter; however, if the temperature is above freezing, deer ticks may still be active during the winter. In the fall, male deer ticks will attach to a host for mating purposes. Male ticks are not known to feed while waiting on a female counterpart, which means they are not thought to transmit disease. The females will attach to a host to feed and mate, then detach to lay eggs and pass away. During their feeding, females can transmit any disease they are carrying. Luckily for humans, the primary and favorite host of the deer tick is the white-tailed deer. However, they can and will feed on humans, so you can never be too careful.

Another fact that many people don’t know is that our pets can be reservoirs (carriers) for tick-borne diseases (diseases spread by ticks). For example, dogs can have both Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but never exhibit any symptoms. If your dogs are not kept on flea and tick medications, that can be bad news. If your dog had one of these diseases, and the tick was to detach from your dog, and then the tick started to feed on you, that would mean that you now have that tick-borne disease. While that may be a rare scenario, it is still a very real possibility and one of the many reasons to keep your pets on flea and tick medications. Heartworm medications are also a must, but that is a different blog for a different time.

While Lyme disease may be one of the most well-known tick-borne illnesses around, it is by no means the only disease deer ticks can spread. Deer ticks are also capable of transmitting anaplasmosis, relapsing fever, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus. Again, these are just the diseases spread by deer ticks. This list does not even begin to scratch the surface of all the different diseases that are capable of being transmitted by all the different species of ticks.

If you have stuck with me to this point, you can see that ticks are not pests that should be taken lightly! They can be present year-round and carry a plethora of diseases. They live in areas like tall grass or brush, which is the primary habitat for animals like deer or other wildlife that these ticks could be utilizing as a host. If they detach from the host around your yard, then I think it is pretty apparent that this can be an issue. I don’t want 3000 tick eggs hatching around my home, and I know most people reading this blog probably aren’t too keen on the idea either. At this point, many of you may be asking, “what are some control methods I can perform to keep myself safe?” There are a number of different things you can do to help protect you and your family from these sinister blood feeders: keep grass cut to ankle height and wear a repellant when engaging in outdoor activities (it needs to be one of the EPA registered repellants—See CDC link below). If possible, keep your yard fenced to keep wildlife from spreading ticks, remove clutter or wood piles which can act as shelter and may promote things like rodents, which can have ticks, and have your yard treated regularly with products used by pest management professionals to kill any ticks that may find their way into your yard.

For more information on different species of ticks, the diseases they vector, and proper removal techniques check out the following CDC webpage:

https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html

For more information on any of the aforementioned diseases, please check out the following webpages:

Lyme disease–https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html

Anaplasmosis– https://www.cdc.gov/anaplasmosis/index.html

Relapsing Fever– https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/miyamotoi.html

Ehrlichiosis– https://www.cdc.gov/ehrlichiosis/index.html

Babesiosis– https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/babesiosis/index.html

Powassan virus– https://www.cdc.gov/powassan/index.html

 

Check out this CDC article on approved repellants that are beneficial in protecting you from more than just ticks:

https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.html

 

 

Author: G. Wyatt West –A University of Georgia Graduate of Entomology

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