As spring emerges we might think the severe winter lessened the number of ticks. Actually, ticks harbor nicely under the leaf litter under the snow, which acts as an insulator. So this year we expect plenty of deer ticks to be waiting to attach to the next available host…humans.
A tick bites animals and humans to get blood that it needs to survive. The tick commonly found is the blacklegged tick, known as the deer tick. The deer tick passes through its life cycle over a two-year period. The deer tick in the larva stage is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence, the nymph is the size of a poppy seed, and the adult is the size of a sesame seed. Due to their small size and flat shape, they can be very difficult to find on your body.
The tiny nymph deer tick, believed to be responsible for up to 90% of the transmission of tick-borne diseases to humans, makes its home in leaf litter that accumulates on the forest floor, around stone walls and under ground cover. Nearly 70% of ticks on residential lawns are found within nine feet of the forest’s edge.
Ticks become infected after feeding on mice and other small animals. Mice, like deer, are a key part of the ticks’ life cycle. Until recently the ticks feeding off the mouse have been unaddressed.
The white-tailed deer, the deer tick’s second primary blood meal host, is needed for the tick to feed off in order to reproduce. Then the tick will lay 2,000 or more eggs. Some communities have successfully reduced their tick-transmitted diseases by reducing the deer population. “Reducing deer densities to below 10 to 12 per square mile has been shown to substantially reduce tick numbers and human Lyme disease.”
Symptoms of tick-borne disease may appear within a month of infection and may include a red ring-like rash varying in shape and size which slowly enlarges and generally is not itchy, flu-like illness with fever and chills (not like a cold with sore throat, cough, and runny nose), pain and stiffness in joints and muscles, headaches, and fatigue. Some may experience symptoms and others may not. Early response to symptoms with prompt treatment helps prevent complications. Contact your physician if symptoms occur.
Tick-borne disease prevention
Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks after all outdoor activities. Eliminate bird feeders and keep stone walls tidy. Do not feed deer. Keep your lawn as short as possible. Trim tree branches and shrubs around the lawn edge to let more sunlight in. Ticks dry up in the sun, and are usually not found in the sunny areas of the lawn. Remove leaf litter, brush, and especially barberry bushes from your property. Restrict the use of ground cover such as pachysandra in areas frequented by family and roaming pets. Consider using wood chips or gravel in shady areas and for the outer edging of the lawn.