If  you live in deer tick country, tuck your pants in your socks.  

 I just read in my October Arboretum Newsletterthat the deer tick population there is on the increase.  Researchers are on the lookout for these little beasties there, and this past summer they found deer ticks in multiple locations.

Just because the ticks are out there, that doesn't mean you can't be out there too.

Up through 2010, only one deer tick had been found in the Arboretum.  They conduct this search by walking slowly along the trails and dragging a flannel cloth over vegetation.  This year 12.5 hours or dragging collected more than 100 deer ticks.

In Wisconsin Lyme disease, transmitted by deer ticks, continues to expand, with a 35 percent increase in human cases in 2010.

Susan Paskewitz , UW-Madison expert on mosquitoes and ticks says, the pretty much everywhere in Wisconsin is infested with deer ticks now, and they are being found in the state’s most heavily populated areas.  She predicts that even people in urban areas need to be on the lookout for ticks.

To find out the risk in your area, check out this National Lyme Disease Foundation risk map .

That doesn’t mean we should all hide indoors.  We just need to understand their life cycle and take a few precautions.

According to the National  Lyme Disease Foundation, the deer tick has a two-year life cycle, and we should all know it well if we intend to be out in natural areas.  The ticks go through three stages: larva, nymph and adult, and they need a blood meal for the oomph to make the transition in each stage, but some times of year are more dangerous than others.

The larva stage peaks in August.  Larvae can’t infect us, but they may become infected themselves, and then they turn into infected and dangerous nymphs.

Nymphs are most active during the summer, and it is nymphs that give most people lyme disease.  They are really tiny.  From May through July they lurk on leaves near the ground waiting for a mammal or bird gets close enough for them to latch on and start feeding.  Then they drop off and become adults.

Adult deer ticks are active in spring and even more active from late October through early November.  They lay in wait up to three feet off the ground on tall grass and leaves.  About half of them are infected with lyme disease, which they can pass to us.  They are tiny and hard to see — about the size of an apple seed.  But in most cases they are still large enough to be noticed and removed before they transfer infection.

That means, if you are out and about, you need to be very methodical about checking yourself over when you get back inside.  It takes at least 36 hours for disease transmission to occur.

Adults who haven’t had their blood meal, will drop to the ground and go dormant when temperatures drop below 45 degrees.  That means we get a little break in the cold months, but with global warming, we need to be wary during any unseasonable thaw in the winter.

Wear long shirts and pants with the pants tucked into the socks.  Then give your clothes a spritz of DEET-containing insect repellent.

Now get out there and enjoy the gorgeous autumn!

12 replies

  1. Here in Latvia we also have to contend with the possibility of tic-bourne encephalitis which can also be transmitted through un-pasteurised milk if cows have been infected by tics. We have vaccinations for this since we work out in the fields a lot and drink the milk, but I know there is no vaccination for lyme disease. We are still aware of the danger of the tics though because of the possibility that the vaccinations are not 100% effective. Fortunately the incidences of the encephalitis is not high.

    I have to say though I avoid DEET if I can as that is almost as bad as the bites long term, which is why I guess you spray it on clothing and not on skin.

    • Thanks for your comment, Joanna. I don’t actually use insecticide much myself. I am very ambivalent about it. But with ticks getting worse, I may cross the tipping point soon.
      I sure wish we had a vaccination for Lyme Disease.

  2. Deer Ticks… not much to say here. They are the reason I avoid bringing my dog to my favorite Wisconsin retreat. Also, why I try not to visit there in the summer. Do I sound negative? I am. I don’t like Deer Ticks! Two thoughts:

    1. I’d love to hear a report on what’s being done about them.
    2. Do they have any positive impact on the enviornment?

    • Hi Lorijo,
      There are things you can put on your dog that make them less agreeable to ticks. We used to put it on our dog. I would not use something like that myself, but I felt that Tombo’s naturally shorter life span would save him from the cumulative effects, and being less of a tick magnet was worth just about any price. It would have been cruel to keep that golden out of the woods and grasses he loved so much.

      There really isn’t anything that can be done about ticks except be aware and wary.
      I’m not aware of anything they do for the environment except infect warm-blooded animals as they reproduce. I’ll ask our state entomologist next time I talk to him.

  3. I’ve heard that keeping a flock of guinea hens (chickens are second best) is the best natural control for ticks in general. I’ve been battling Lyme disease now for four years. I went from being completely nonchalant about ticks and other hazards of outdoor living to being super cautious now (although I still don’t use DEET). I still love the outdoors; I just no longer have the good health it takes to enjoy it the way I used to. It’s well worth erring on the side of caution with Lyme disease! Thanks for sharing information about it. It’s surprising how unaware a lot of people are. “Lyme – you don’t get it ’til you get it,” as my bumper sticker says.

  4. I’m so sorry to hear about your battle with Lyme disease, Eleanor.
    That’s an interesting idea that a flock of guinea hens can control ticks. Do they eat them? I wonder if they can find those nasty little nymphs – which are the ones that do the most damage to us humans.
    I like the idea of a feathered patrol on duty.
    I think your bumper sticker sounds tragically true.

  5. Yes, they eat them, although I haven’t heard if they eat the nymphs. Of course, over time, there would be no nymphs. Tick control comes up a lot here on the east coast, because people’s first reaction is to expect municipalities to “do something.” Sadly, I’ve known many Lyme sufferers to go crazy applying insecticides to their yards (after removing all vegetation except lawn). Lots of places also take drastic deer control measures. It’s often missed that one of the main hosts for the Lyme bacteria is the white-footed mouse (I’m plagued with them in my house). So, as with so many things, taking reasonable measures on multiple fronts might be the best hope. If it’s a reasonable option for you, you might want to look into guinea hens, or at least chickens. But you’re right, none of this should keep us from enjoying nature!

  6. I didn’t realise that chickens helped with tick control, that would make them useful as a pest control around livestock, if they were free range then. We were only planning on having chickens in arks to prevent predation from eagles, hawks, foxes and lynx but free range for their tick removal abilities is worth thinking about. Thanks for the information.

    • It’s definitely worth more research. I don’t keep chickens or guinea hens; I’m only going on what I read/hear from the Lyme community. Chickens, in general, are great at pest control in the garden, so some time free from the arks might be a good idea. There are plenty of good chicken resources out there, so good luck!

  7. Everything I have read says that chickens are excellent pest patrollers. They have very sharp eyes and will eat most any insect they find. I have 4 free-range chickens that roam over an acre or so. I can’t make any data-based claim about their controlling insects, but I would be surprised if they weren’t. Besides their eggs are so much better than anything you would find at the supermarket.

  8. Hi Dennis,
    I’m very interested in having a few chickens. Do you keep them over winter? How many eggs do you get a week from 4 hens?
    Have you lost any to predation?
    I have heard before that letting chickens into the garden can eliminate a lot of pesty insects. I never thought about them as the tick patrol till now.

  9. I keep the hens – no roosters – in a building that I built as an astronomical observatory 10 years ago. It sat unused for several years and then I adapted it for chickens. We bought 25 chicks in May of ’10 that we kept in the coop, about 90 square feet. It was great fun watching them grow, especially after we let them out in a confined area of the yard. They wandered around, scratched a lot, dug up the grass, and chased rapidly after flying moths and butterflies. It was a brave – or stupid – insect that flew within their reach. The best single book on raising chicks is by Bob Plamondon, “Success with Baby Chicks”. He lays it out step by step, answers most of the questions you might have. I especially liked his insulated heat lamp brooder, chapters 7 and 8. I adapted his idea and found it very successful.

    We gave most of the young chickens to a local farmer when we went to Italy last fall, but after our return we took 4 of them back. They did very well over winter, to my surprise: the cold temperatures didn’t seem to bother them, though of course I helped them out. I use the deep litter method 5-8 inches of pine shavings on the floor, and I do not clean out the hen house weekly or monthly. The litter does not smell and it decomposes with the help of the hens’ scratching and continual disturbance. This summer I’ve been using it to build compost piles.

    I piled hay bales behind the house to break the wind. Used a water warmer to keep the water from freezing, and upon really cold nights I ran a heater. After snow we dug a path back to our house where the chickens could find some free space to roam. It all worked out pretty well. Eggs: the first year of egg laying they dropped probably 2-4 eggs per day or about 2 dozen eggs per week. We’ve gotten in the habit of every couple weeks giving a dozen eggs away to some friends.

    Iread a bunch of books on raising chickens and got really scared: it seemed like so many things could go wrong and it would be difficult. In fact, it was easy and we’ve had no problems. No predator problems either, which is surprising given that we have raccoons, hawks, owls, coyotes around here. But the hen house is firmly secured to a cement base and has thick wire over all possible entry points.

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