With the arrival of spring, you might feel the itch to get out into the wild and stretch your legs.
Unfortunately, spring adventures can sometimes come with another itch – the itch of a tick as it crawls its way to your tender spots.
These small arachnids are some of nature’s most famous blood suckers, especially when it comes to humans.
This is because some ticks can spread serious diseases when they feed, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and others. This danger is made worse by the fact that ticks tend to quickly settle into areas near human homes and public spaces. Luckily for you, I have had extensive experience in working around and trying to avoid these creepy critters. Let me share some of the ways that I have learned to minimize the risk of contracting tick-borne illnesses while leading an outdoor focused lifestyle.
The first step in learning how to avoid a creature is to learn a bit about its life cycle.
There are many kinds of ticks, but in our area the species of greatest concern are the black-legged tick (also called deer ticks), dog ticks, and lone star ticks.
These are all potential vectors for a wide array of illnesses. They are all hard ticks, which means they have a tough outer shell and a long “mouth” that they use to pierce skin. Ticks have four stages to their lives, moving from egg, to larva, to adult-like immature nymphs and finally the adult.
They can feed on blood in their nymphal and adult stage – in fact, as nymphs they require a meal before they can grow their last set of legs. In order to find prey, ticks climb onto tall grass, weeds or other elevated surfaces and wait for their intended prey.
Once situated, they hang off of their perch with several arms outstretched. Ticks are able to sense approaching prey through smell, vibrations and other queues.
They can even see infrared light, which gives them a form of heat vision. The height that they climb changes depending on their target; if deer is the preferred meal, the tick will crawl up to deer level, whereas ticks looking for small prey like mice stay lower to the ground. Ticks prefer moist areas to hang out and raise their young, so they tend to stick to areas with heavy leaf cover and tall weeds near the edge of a forest
If you find a tick attached to you, a timely and careful removal is important, as the chance of diseases being transferred increases the longer the parasite is attached.
It is possible to remove a dug-in pest using tweezers, however only grasp the target by the head and do not squeeze the body.
There are also tick removal devices commercially available that aim to slide underneath the animal and pry it up like a crowbar.
The most effective way to avoid exposure to illness from a tick is to not be bitten in the first place. In order to return home tick free, one must become the tick.
Look for areas on the border of a forest with deep layers of leaf litter and/or tall weeds, and avoid walking through them.
Also take a look at your outfit through the eyes of a blood sucker - pay special attention to areas of entry such as the bottom of your pants, waistline and hair. Tuck your pants into your boots or socks to make it more difficult for ticks to get under your armor, or purchase footwear protection like gaiters. I like to douse all of my clothing margins with rose geranium oil – while anecdotal, I have noticed a drop in ticks on myself when properly perfumed.
Brannen Basham and his wife, Jill Jacobs, operate Spriggly’s Beescaping, a business dedicated to the preservation of pollinators. He can be reached at email@example.com.