by Jennifer Barrows
Ticks are having a good year – have you noticed? If you’re like most residents of Connecticut, you probably have seen more of them than usual marauding your lawn and garden. This is likely to continue well into the fall – and even winter, if temperatures remain as mild as last year.
Many experts believe that the proliferation of ticks in recent years is associated with climate change. We humans were not the only ones to enjoy a much milder winter in 2019-2020. Ticks were reveling in it. The warmer temperatures in December allowed them to remain active longer than usual; and new ticks emerged sooner, thanks to warmer temperatures in early spring.
Not only is our native tick population booming, but new species are moving into the area. The lone star tick has found its way to Rhode Island, and soon will migrate into Connecticut and other New England states.
Know Your Ticks
The most common ticks in the Northeastern U.S. are the blacklegged or deer tick, the American dog tick, and the lone star tick.
Tick-Proofing Your Yard
If you have a dog and/or spend a lot of time outdoors, ticks are nothing short of a menace. Landscape experts and homeowners have found that carefully applied pesticides specifically for tick control are effective for lawns. In addition, mulching can help curb the migration of ticks from nearby woodlands to our lawns. Consider creating a barrier of woodchips around the perimeter of your yard, especially buffering areas that directly abut woodlands, meadows, brush, or stands of trees. Experts recommend at least a three-foot wide mulch barrier. It is also helpful to remove any leaf litter, tall grasses and other organic debris from your yard, as it will attract ticks and rodents. Keep your grass short by mowing regularly.
Protecting Your Pooch
Check your dog daily to detect and remove any ticks before they have a chance to transmit disease. Pay particular attention to areas such as your dog’s neck, head, ears, feet and between the toes. Limit your dog’s exploration in areas where there are a lot of dried leaves, tall grasses, and especially off-trail in heavily wooded areas. Talk to your veterinarian and choose a tick treatment appropriate for your dog. Options may include a tick collar, spray, spot-on treatment, shampoo or tablet.
The Ultimate Tick Resource
The University of Rhode Island (URI) is home to a comprehensive research and public health repository of tick-related information called the TickEncounter Resource Center. Its website is set up to help consumers identify ticks, as well as provide information intended to help keep humans and pets safe during tick season.
If you have a close encounter with a tick, TickEncounter’s website enables you to submit a photo for expert identification within 24-48 hours. The program at URI is led by Dr. Thomas Mather, Director of the URI Center for Vector-Borne Disease. He is also known as the Tick Guy (TickEncounter.org).
Before You Venture Out on the Trail
TickEncounter recommends these three strategies for avoiding hitch-hiking ticks: 1) when hiking, stay in the middle of the trail; avoid shuffling through leaf litter and high-stemmed plants along the edges; 2) tuck in your shirt; and 3) tuck your pant legs into your socks.
Once you return home, remove and wash your clothing and do a tick-check immediately on both you and your pet.
TickEncounter’s Top Ten Things to Know
- Ticks start low and crawl up. They don’t jump, fly or drop from trees. They most likely attach to your pant leg and crawl upward.
- All ticks come in small, medium and large sizes. Small ticks are the size of sand grains; medium ticks are the size of poppy seeds; large ticks, the size of apple seeds, and sometimes larger, if they are full of blood.
- Deer ticks can be active even in the winter. They are not killed by freezing temperatures.
- Ticks carry disease-causing microbes.
- Only deer ticks (aka black legged ticks) transmit Lyme disease bacteria.
- For most tick-borne diseases, it takes at least 24 hours for an attached tick to transmit an infection.
- Deer tick nymphs look like a poppy seed on your skin. Their bites are painless.
- Remove a tick with pointy tweezers. Save the tick and try to identify it by sending a photo to TickEncounter.org.
- Wear clothing with built-in tick repellent.
- Tick bites and tick-borne diseases are completely preventable.
TickEncounter’s Top Five Actions to Take
1) Know the kinds of ticks active in your area, and identify any that you find on your pet, in your house or on your clothes or body;
2) Perform daily tick checks, especially below the belt, for tiny nymph ticks;
3) Wear tick repellent (permethrin) on your clothes. You can also buy socks and other clothing already containing permethrin;
4) Treat your yard with tick-killing pesticides; and
5) Protect pets using tick killing and repelling products as recommended by your veterinarian.
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has developed a comprehensive Tick Management Handbook, for preventing tick bites, available electronically. (Add QR Code)