Ticks got an early start in our area as a result of the warmer-than-normal April. Even though May has started out cooler, the ticks will be waiting for our return to the woods and nature trails.
Ticks are not insects but are arachnids (they have eight legs, insects have six). The life cycle of ticks includes egg, larvae, nymph, and adult.
Ticks are also parasites — a blood meal is necessary to complete each developmental stage of their life cycle. When feeding on humans they may transmit microorganisms that can cause disease.
In general, larvae and nymphs prefer to feed on smaller hosts, such as mice, and adults prefer larger animals. However, any may attach to humans.
Ticks do not fly or drop out of trees. They position themselves to hitch a ride when your legs or body come in contact with vegetation. They will wait for a suitable host on tips of grass leaves, weeds and shrubs.
Ticks land on passing animals and people, climb until they find a good place to attach, and then feed with their piercing-sucking mouth parts.
Female ticks can remain attached for seven to 11 days before dropping and laying as many 6,000 eggs, depending on the species.
There are three tick species of importance found in Ohio: American dog tick (Dermacenter variabilis), lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), and blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). All three may carry pathogens that can be transmitted to humans.
In our area, the American dog tick is the most common and the largest. It is brown in color and about 3/16-inch long before feeding. Dog ticks generally reside along the edge of the woods in brushy areas, unmowed grass, or vegetation along trails, roads or field edges.
American dog ticks are active during the spring and summer months, especially mid-April through July. They may transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, human monocytic ehrlichiosis, and tick paralysis, all relatively rare diseases. Only the adult of the American dog tick will attach to humans.
Lone star ticks are slightly smaller than American dog, tend to be browner and have a silvery spot on the upper part of the scutum. Scutum is the shield-shaped area of the tick body behind the head.
Lone star ticks tend to be in southern Ohio, but may be brought into our area by migratory birds in isolated situations. They prefer shaded grassy and shrubby areas along roadsides or grassy fields. Larvae, nymphs, and adults will attach to humans.
The lone star tick may transmit monocytic ehrlichiosis, tularemia and Q-fever, and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI).
Blacklegged ticks are the smallest and are relatively new in our area. They are dark chocolate brown in color and about 1/16-inch long. The rear end of an adult female will be red to orange in color. They tend to be found in woods and are most active during the fall, winter and spring season.
The blacklegged tick is primarily found in eastern Ohio. It has not been detected in most of the counties in northwestern Ohio. Isolated woodlots, rather than forest land, has slowed the spread of the blacklegged tick into our area. Larvae, nymphs, and adults will attach to humans.
Blacklegged ticks may transmit Lyme disease. This serious disease may debilitate a person if not detected early and treated with antibiotics. The disease is uncommon but doctors are seeing more of it as the blacklegged tick moves into Ohio. Blacklegged ticks may also transmit a rare disease called human granulocytic anaplasmosis.
Prompt removal of an attached tick reduces the chance of a disease infection. Tick attachment of several hours or more is often required for disease transmission. When removing a tick, use tweezers to grasp an embedded tick as close to your skin as possible and near the tick’s mouth parts.
Use steady pressure to pull it out straight. Do not use a hot match or cigarette to remove a tick as this may cause the tick to burst.
Solvents or other materials should not be applied to the tick to “stimulate” detachment. Solvents are ineffective and delay removal.
When in tick areas, wear clothing that makes it easier to see crawling ticks and remove before attachment. This would include long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck pant legs into socks and make sure shirt tales are tucked into pants. Also, wearing light-colored clothing makes it easier to see crawling ticks.
Tick repellants, such as DEET and permethrin, may be applied to clothing. DEET repellent must contain at least 25 percent active ingredient to be effective. Shower after returning from areas that may have ticks and do a thorough body check.
Enjoy the outdoors, but remember that tick bite prevention is the best method to avoid potential diseases and infection. Additional information on ticks may be found at the following websites:
http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/pdf/2073.pdf (tick and tick diseases fact sheet)
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.
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