Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Don’t Get Ticked

by cathym on May 13, 2019

by Lyn Chimera

Appearance and relative sizes of adult male and female, nymph, and larval ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Photo courtesy U.S. federal government Center for Disease Control (CDC)

I recently attended “Don’t Get Ticked,” an informational program about ticks, conducted by Lynn Braband, who heads the NYSIPM (Integrated Pest Management) program at Cornell. He covered the myths and facts. It was fascinating and scary at the same time. I for one don’t take tick protection seriously enough, but will from now on. Lyme is now the most common vector-borne disease in the U. S., so it needs to be taken seriously.

Ticks have eight legs, so are not insects but related to spiders and mites. There are three types of ticks in our area:

The American dog tick, which carries Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and prefers grasslands.

The black legged tick (deer tick), which carries Lyme disease and prefers woods and wood edges.

The Lone Star tick, which arrives on migrating birds as our climate warms and prefers dry areas.

All these ticks spread a variety of diseases, but it is only the deer tick that carries Lyme.

Ticks hitch a ride on people and animals through an “ambush” technique. They can’t jump, fly or drop from trees so they rely on grabbing on as you pass by. A tick will crawl to the end of a leaf or blade of grass from ground level to one-and-a-half feet, hold on with their back legs, and reach forward with their front two elongated legs to grab a hold on whatever passes by. 

Walking in the middle of paths so you don’t brush up against vegetation is a good way to avoid these hitch-hikers. Tucking long pants into socks is another good method. DEET is the most effective tick pesticide. Braband suggests putting all clothing in a dryer on high as soon as you come in. The heat will kill the ticks. He also recommends taking a shower within half an hour of coming in. This can possibly wash off ticks as well as give you the opportunity to check yourself.

If you do get a tick on you the most important thing about removing it is NOT to squeeze the body or head. That just forces more of their fluids into you. Use very thin tweezers and place them between the head and your skin. Pull gently. There is also a tick removal device available at drugstores. If you want to check the tick for Lyme disease, put in a container in the freezer or drop it in a container with alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill it. Then take the tick to your doctor or the county health department.

SOME INTERESTING FACTS

  • Deer are an important location for ticks to reproduce, however they don’t carry Lyme Disease.
  • June and July are the highest months for tick activity. Although they can be active all year long, any day it’s above 40 degrees.
  • Tick larvae don’t initially have Lyme. They have to take a blood meal on an infected host like a deer mouse.
  • Deer mice are not the only host animals. Chipmunks, squirrels and other small mammals can be the vectors. 
  • Most ticks have a two-year life cycle.
  • Wearing light colored clothes makes ticks easier to spot.
  • A tick does NOT have to be on you for 36 hours for you to become infected, however the longer it’s on you the higher your chance is of getting Lyme.
  •  Ticks inject a numbing agent so you can’t feel them bite.
  • To check if you have ticks in your yard, drag a two-by-three-foot piece of white flannel or corduroy across the area, then check it for ticks.

An interesting panel discussion and Q&A followed the presentation. The overall impression I was left with was you have to be your own advocate. Dress properly, use protection, avoid potential tick habitat and check yourself daily. Many doctors are not up on Lyme disease symptoms, which can vary, so you have to be perseverant if you suddenly become ill.

An outstanding website with all the information on ticks, their life cycle, and bite prevention is nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/.

For a Claymation video on ticks go to dontgettickedny.org.

Lyn Chimera is an Erie County Master Gardener. 

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