Got Ticks?

I love being outdoors, even in the Texas heat. Nothing better than tromping down a hiking trail at a state park or a national forest or a wildlife preserve. On occasion I have to walk through some tall grasses just to get to where I want, and, therein lies a problem. Ticks, those nasty, blood-sucking little buggers, just hang out waiting for that innocent hiker to get close enough to hitch a ride. 

Unfortunately, East Texans can find four different species of ticks: the American Dog tick, the Brown Dog tick, the Lone Star tick, and the Blacklegged tick. These are not insects at all, but rather blood-sucking arachnids related to spiders, scorpions, and  mites. Just like their cousins ticks have no antennae, no wings, and eight legs, the better to catch you with, my dear. Ticks are in two major families, the Ixodidae, hard ticks with thick outer shells made of chitin, and Argasidae soft ticks with a softer, membranous outer surface. (Yes, a third family exists, Nuttalliellidae, with one rare species (Nuttalliella namaqua) found only in Africa, so far.) Here is a brief look at each.

American Dog Tick

 The American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains. Found mostly in grassy areas along hiking trails, sidewalks, and your yard. These frequently attach to humans. They make their way to the scalp where they attach themselves to gorge on blood for a couple of days. Afterwards they drop to the ground where the female can lay her 4,000 or so eggs. It does not carry Lyme disease. It can, however, transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever bacterium (Rickettsia rickettsii).

Brown Dog tick

The Brown Dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), aka Kennel tick, is the world’s most widely spread species. usually brought into the home by an unprotected canine, it enjoys the singular ability of spending the entire life cycle indoors. It may attach to humans, but rarely, preferring fido instead. Not only can it transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to your dog, but a variety of other pathogens all of which make your pet sick. Once your home is infested it takes several weeks to get control. BTW: they like to hang out on low lying branches as well as grass.

Lone Star Tick

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), aka Wood tick, is named not for Texas. Rather, the female identifies by a singular white spot (star) on her shield. Males do not have this although their shield is ringed with white specks. All stages of the life cycle, i. e., larval, nymph, and adult, are active feeders. Although not a carrier of Lyme disease, it is known to transmit Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), causing similar, but milder symptoms.

Blacklegged Tick

The Blacklegged tick, aka Deer tick (Ixodes scapularis),  claims its infamy as carrier of the Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) bacterium. The distribution around deciduous forests, along the forest edge, and in grasslands is dependent upon the travels of its main host, the white-tailed deer. Whereas the other species are active from April through September with July being the strongest month, this species thrives from October through May, especially when freezing temperatures do not occur.

The Center for Disease Control recommends a three step process for tick control: prevent bites, remove ticks, and check symptoms. The easy part is to prevent bites. You can do this by following the following recommendations:

  • Wear long hiking pants tucked inside your socks.
  • Spray your exposed body with an EPA approved repellent containing at least 20 percent DEET, IR3535, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Spray your clothing with insecticides that contain 0.5 percent permethrin. Ticks that come into contact with permethrin-treated clothing usually die in under a minute.

Once you return to your campsite or home, take the advice of Brad Paisley: I’d like to check you for ticks. Strip off your clothes and throw them into the dryer for ten minutes on high heat. This will kill the vermin. Inspect that beautiful body thoroughly, including behind the knees, under the arms, and other generally unnoticeable tight areas (this is where a close friend comes in). Take a hot shower within two hours of returning to scrub those minute critters off. Remember, they are no larger than a poppy seed.

Should you find a tick that has attached to you, do not panic. Stay calm and remove it by grasping the head as close to your body as possible, lift straight up avoiding any twisting or jerking motion. Dispose of the tick in alcohol. Clean the bite with alcohol or soap and water.

Finally, be alert for flu-like symptoms, e. g., fever, chills, aches, and pains. You may also notice a rash expanding around the bite location. This may not happen for several hours. If you experience these, see your doctor. Most infections are treatable with oral antibiotics.

Even though Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and Lyme disease cases have increased over the last few years, do not let that stop you from getting out in nature. Just follow the guidelines and have a safe, enjoyable moment with your Mother Nature.

BTW: Leave those opossums be. They can eat about 5,000 ticks over their short lifespan.

More information at: Center for Disease Control

A list of tick tools at: The Strategist

Photo credits: The Tick App (Texas A&M University System) & Public News Service

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