Now is the time for ticks. We often see them in wooded and brushy areas, sitting or skittering around in high-grass environments and falling from balsam branches. With warm temperatures and sunny skies, we will spend time this summer and fall enjoying the outdoors and coming into contact with bugs and probably some ticks.
Ticks are active from March through November, the same months we tend to be outside the most. It’s important to understand and recognize the various kinds of ticks and know how to remove any ticks that land on us.
Most ticks are harmless, or they might bite and cause some minor discomfort. But there is at least one tick, Ixodes scapularis or the blacklegged tick, that can transmit a dangerous disease.
According to Laura Jesse, Donald Lewis and Ken Holscher at Iowa State University, “Ticks have become infamous as carriers of Lyme disease, an illness that can be transmitted from other infected mammals to humans through ticks. Ticks feed on the blood of smaller animals like rodents and birds as they move from their nymph stage into adulthood. When adult ticks latch onto humans they can then transmit Lyme disease if they are infected.”
Be sure to check yourself and children after being outside in areas of wood or brush and areas with long grass. The main outward sign of Lyme disease is a bulls-eye-shaped skin rash at the site of the bite. Other symptoms include arthritis, facial paralysis, neurological and cardiac problems, general malaise and fatigue. The disease has also been reported in dogs, cats, horses, cattle and sheep.
There is a good description of these ticks, along with information on the bacteria that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) on the Extension University of Missouri website. Download the Guide to Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases.
How to Prevent Tick Bites
- You can help prevent tick bites by wearing long, tucked-in pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Wear light-colored clothing to see the ticks easier.
- Use tick-specific EPA-approved repellent.
- After returning indoors, check yourself and children manually to find and remove ticks.
Best Way to Remove Ticks
If you find a tick that has bitten and attached itself, remove it by grasping the tick’s mouth parts with tweezers where they have entered the skin. Pull the tick away from the skin and thoroughly clean and disinfect the site of the bite. For more information, check out this video: Nature Scoop July 2020: YouTube
Opossums Are the Heroes
Rick Ostfeld, Senior Scientist of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, says, “The opossums are extraordinarily good groomers it turns out – we never would have thought that ahead of time – but they kill the vast majority – more than 95% percent of the ticks that try to feed on them. So these opossums are walking around the forest floor, hoovering up ticks right and left, killing over 90% of these things, and so they are really protecting our health.” (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies)
North America’s Marsupial
The amazing opossum is North America’s only marsupial. It is a pouched mammal, it’s mostly active at night, and generally lives in burrows and cavities that they find ready-made – or they often find shelter underground, in trees, or anywhere in between.
In addition to eradicating ticks, opossums are a benefit to ecosystems and a healthy environment. They will catch and eat cockroaches, rats and mice, and gardeners appreciate their appetite for snails and slugs.
The Tick App
The Tick App is a free app for your smartphone that contains lots of great information on ticks. You can use the app to complete a daily log of your activities to help tick researchers, and you can send in pictures of your ticks for identification. The app was developed to let people living in high-risk areas for Lyme disease participate in a tick-exposure and human-behavior study.