Tick Facts, Myths, and Prevention

Ticks can carry a variety of diseases that pose a risk to humans and their livestock and pets.  Because of their variable life cycle, ticks can be hard to control, and no single method will eliminate the possibility of tick exposure.  Controlling ticks requires an integrated approach (IPM or Integrated Pest Management).

Let’s start with a few facts and bust a few myths about ticks!

Fact: Over 90 species of ticks occur in the continental US, about 80 of those species are ‘hard ticks’ in the family Ixodidae with the other 10 species being ‘soft ticks’ in the family Argasidae.  The ‘hard ticks’ are the ones we most commonly encounter on ourselves.  Humans and pets most commonly encounter the American Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, Black-legged Tick, and Brown Dog Tick.

Fact: Ticks thrive in habitats that support large numbers of mammals, groud-dwelling birds, and lizards.  These are typically areas with dense foliage, high humidity, and easy access to shade.

Fact: Ticks find their hosts by sensing carbon dioxide, vibrations, and warm, moist air currents.  Tick larvae usually start by feeding on rodents and ground-dwelling birds.  After feeding, they drop off the initial host and develop into the nymphal stage.  Tick nymphs seek larger hosts such as pets and humans.  After getting their fill of blood, the nymphs drop off the host and develop into the adult form.  Adult ticks will also then seek larger hosts such as deer, livestock, humans, and pets.

Fact: Removing ticks properly within 24-48 hours of exposure dramatically reduces the risk of tick-transmitted diseases.

MythTicks jump out of trees to land on passing hosts.  Ticks are actually physically unable to jump.  When ticks are ‘questing’ for a new host, they will climb up into low shrubs, bushes, and low hanging trees where they sit and wave their front legs until they come into contact with a host.  When people or animals brush up against the foliage and contact the ticks legs, the tick grabs on tight!

MythApply heat to make a tick dislodge.  Applying heat to a feeding tick can actually increase the chance of tick-transmitted disease.  Agitating a tick while it is feeding can make the tick salivate more, and tick saliva is where tick-transmitted pathogens live.  The first thing to always do when you find an attached tick, is to remove it. 

To learn more facts about ticks, visit: https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publichealth/insects/tick.html

To read about more tick myths, visit: https://www.k-state.edu/today/announcement/?id=14987

So, what are some ways to reduce tick numbers and prevent bites?

  1. Personal protection.
    1. Try to avoid tick infested areas.  
    2. Walk in the center of mowed pathways to avoid brushing up against taller foliage.
    3. Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to see and tuck pants into socks and tuck in shirts when passing through tick habitat.
    4. Use personal repellents and reapply as directed on the label.
    5. Landscape Management
      1. Keep lawns mowed to 3 inches or less.
      2. Clear leaf litter, tall grasses, and brush from around homes and pastures.
      3. Plant deer and rabbit resistant varieties of plants to reduce the amount of potential tick hosts.
      4. Consider the use of chemical and biological control in areas with high numbers of ticks.

To learn more about tick management, visit: https://extension.umaine.edu/ticks/management/pet-protection/

What’s the best way to remove attached ticks?

The ideal way to remove a tick is with forceps, tweezers, or specialized tick removal tools used to grasp the tick just behind the mouthparts and gently and steadily pull until the tick releases its hold.  Wash the attachment site of the tick thoroughly with warm soapy water and wipe down with rubbing alcohol to help prevent infection.  Save the tick for identification before killing and disposing of it.

TickEncounter by the University of Rhode Island can help you identify the tick that bit you with a simple picture submission at: https://web.uri.edu/tickencounter/tickspotters/submit/

Curious about tick activity in your area?  Check out: https://web.uri.edu/tickencounter/fieldguide/