New York State IPM Program

January 2, 2019
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on IPM Celebrates the New Year With News for You

IPM Celebrates the New Year With News for You

We decided on a new look for our IPM Year in Review—our first-ever calendar. Who doesn’t put calendars to good use? I’ve already noted a couple of dentist appointments in mine.

And for you, dear reader, we offer our calendar sampler—four months, four topics, four new things to learn.

February:

It’s February and shivery cold—and time to pay careful attention to the nooks and crannies so inviting to the critters that call your home theirs. Do you hear varmints scurrying in the basement, the walls, the ceiling? Mice and kin (OK, rats) have taken up lodgings and are way overdue on the rent.

Block their access. Start with a look in the basement. For mice, the entryway need be no larger than a dime; for rats, a quarter. Take it from us: if their heads can fit through, their fat little tummies can squeeze through too. Found a hole? Found several? Get some sealant and fill ’em up.    https://conservesenecacounty.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/mouse.jpg

March:

Ah, March—when winter marches into spring. School kids are antsy to get outside. And us? We’ve got ticks on our mind. Here’s your blacklegged tick, up close and personal. Soon these ticks will be out and about; the health hazards can hardly be overstated.

So practice the drill—how to ID them, dress for the occasion, do tick checks. Planning a hike? Wear light-colored duds (the better to see you with, my dear), pull your socks over your cuffs—and as soon as you’re home, do tick checks. Got pets? Check them too.

Btw, though their common name is “deer tick,” many scientists prefer “blacklegged tick.” We’re speculating here—but could that be because otherwise people will get the mistaken notion they can catch Lyme from deer, which they cannot? Yes, deer are among the movers and shakers in the world of Lyme. But by the time they’ve donated their blood to the cause, mama tick will have dropped off and called it a day.

Regardless: these ticks have a lineage that goes way back. In fact, a fossilized tick was found in a chunk of amber where it dined on mammalian blood some 20 million years ago. It carried babesia—a disease that’s still in action today.

May:

It’s May now; summer is nearly here and the weeds are growing like—well, like weeds. Unperturbed by spray, horseweed and waterhemp are gaining ground, dramatically reducing crop yields. Regaining control over these herbicide-resistant weeds is a major issue for New York’s farmers.

Here’s one approach. With nearly 20 rubbery fingers on each hand and 20-plus hands, this cultivator earns its keep by dislodging, uprooting, and burying weeds while they’re still small. The boxy white contraption with two dark “eyes” and mounted at head height with a cable running toward the cab? That’s a camera, designed to move the cultivator left or right. It’s job? Keeping the cultivator aligned with the crop.

November:

Bed bugs are back, the scourge of small and big towns alike. No, they don’t spread disease. Yes, on some of us they leave itchy red welts—while others have no symptoms at all. But you don’t need to throw all your belongings away, we promise. IPM now offers to ultimate in How To guides: How to Get Bed Bugs Out of Your Belongings.

Your hair dryer and vacuum cleaner will be your steadfast companions in your battle to regain control over your mattresses, shoes, clothes, and electronics. The hair dryer’s gentle heat will flush the little buggers out of hiding; the vacuum cleaner sucks them up. The guide also provides instructions on how to quarantine your belongings long enough to starve them into oblivion. Bed bugs, even during the holidays, are manageable.

Let IPM help you!

Resources:

September 7, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The eat-local movement: IPM works for you…

The eat-local movement: IPM works for you…

… no matter who you are.

Eat local! For towns and cities small and large, the eat-local movement is a boon for farmers and consumers alike. You (the consumer) get your veggies fresh, while you (the farmer) can build a base of local buyers who know your products.

Tomatoes, cukes, and sweet peppers. Lettuce and spinach, arugula and swiss chard. For farmers who grow them, the season is always too short—and winter too long. Now some have adopted the high-tunnel approach to get ahead of the game.

These tomatoes are just getting traction. Next up….

Ripe local tomatoes … ready for you.

And what is a high tunnel, exactly? Uh … well, I’ll grant you there’s no “exactly” to many a thing—high tunnels included. But whatever the specifics, they have much in common. For starters, this type of greenhouse is usually a plastic covered structure with less environmental control, relying on passive ventilation for cooling.

But like everything in agriculture, high-tunnel crops have can have insect pests. Plant pathogens. Weeds.

How do we help? Let us count the ways. Crafting a solid IPM plan is a great place to start. The plan lays out practices that help prevent pests, be they diseases, weeds or insects. Choosing pest-resistant varieties helps lessens the need for pesticides. Ditto with becoming familiar with a range of biocontrols while you’re still ahead of the game. Then there’s getting the ID’s right: learning the appearance or symptoms of pests that just happen to be checking out the premises. Once you’ve nailed the IDs, it’s time to scout early and often.

Diversifying and rotating crops plays a big role too. So does getting watering, ventilation, and fertilizing down to an art—a must-do, since too much or too little of any of these can encourage those pests you are trying to control.

Next time you are buying local – ask your local farmer how they include IPM in their production.  You’ll find they are all doing their best to grow beautiful, delicious veggies for you.

Eat local!

August 30, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Bugs in your bed? IPM solution at your fingertips

Bugs in your bed? IPM solution at your fingertips

Bed bugs are a longtime pest all over the world. Lord knows we here in the states have labored under their curse for upward of four centuries now. The respite we got from DDT was short-lived in evolutionary time, since it takes little for a pest of any sort to become resistant to whatever pesticide we throw against it.

It’s 1939. Most of us haven’t been born yet. But bed bugs are here. How they got around? This cartoon tells all.

Hard to see, difficult to deal with, bed bugs are well-nigh impossible to live with. These hitchhikers have one seeming aim—to take a trip from one place to the next without you noticing a thing. And by the time you do, it’s too late to wave good-bye. The only thing bed bugs have going for them? They don’t carry disease—a consolation, yes, though a small one when you’re in the thick of it all.

To help, we offer the ultimate in how-to guides: How to Get Bed Bugs Out of Your Belongings. Here you’ll find the pesticide-free solutions you need for household items—items too easily overlooked by the professionals. And the money to replace your stuff? Our guide saves the day.

Consider the humble hair dryer. Our electronics—TV remote, cell phone, lamps and laptops—the list goes on. And you can bet your bottom dollar: bed bugs can find hidey holes within them all. But just try tossing them in a hot dryer (the solution for many a personal or household item). Here’s a place where the hair dryer, helped by its friend the vacuum cleaner, could save the day.

From our guide: Bed bugs are drawn to heat … Warm electronics, especially, should be inspected. Use the hair dryer to blow hot air into cracks and crevices to flush bed bugs, and use the vacuum cleaner to suck them up. Many electronic devices can withstand heat of up to 160°F. Check the owner’s manual or call the manufacturer to confirm that the unit can withstand heat.

You get the idea. Now get the guide. And while you’re at it—check out a whole slew of other IPM resources for bed bugs, cataloged here.

 

August 17, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Crusader for sustainably managed golf courses earns excellence in IPM

Crusader for sustainably managed golf courses earns excellence in IPM

Bob Portmess was a mechanical engineer and former executive with Cox Communications who just happened to be an avid golfer.

That last item is key. Twelve years ago, Portmess walked into turf guru Frank Rossi’s office at Cornell University. He knew exactly what he wanted: to work, he said, “with the people who produce the finest golf playing surfaces in the world.”

Two years later, Portmess had received his Masters of Professional Studies from Cornell. His focus: turfgrass management. He was synthesizing the practical knowledge that Rossi and colleague Jennifer Grant now director of NYSIPM) had amassed over seven years of experimental work at the world-renowned Bethpage Golf Course, also a New York State Park.

By the following year, Portmess had developed an “IPM Handbook” of best management practices for sustainable turf, informed in part by his engineering background. This handbook, now translated into Spanish, served as a resource for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America’s seminar that Portmess co-instructed at several International Golf Shows. It continues to guide management of New York’s 29 state park golf courses as well as golf courses around the country that want to cut back on inputs while maintaining top quality turf.

Portmess’s passion for teaching turned out to be as consuming as his passion for golf. “Whether it was frequent light topdressing, root pruning, over-seeding, better ways to aerify the soil, or careful use of water—Bob taught them all,” says Larry Specchio, superintendent at Chenango Valley State Park Golf Course. Each tactic Specchio notes is a core IPM method.

“I find myself almost daily wanting to pick up my phone and call him; he was more than just a consultant to me,” Specchio says. “No one has a had a more positive impact on my career than Bob.”

Rossi couldn’t have predicted it at that time, of course, but that meeting in 2006 turned out to be one of the most important partnerships of his career.

“For that, I owe Bob more than simply a nomination for an award he is more than worthy of, but rather my own continued commitment to the work that he started,” Rossi says.

Lake in the background, greens near the front. Here’s where Portmess’ family received the Excellence in IPM award.

Sadly, Portmess passed away before he could see the full impact of his work. “Losing Bob Portmess was a tragedy” said Rose Harvey, commissioner of New York State Parks. “But his legacy lives on in the sustainable management of our golf courses.”

Melinda Portmess, Portmess’s widow, received the Excellence of IPM award at a ceremony at Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse on August 10th.

Learn more about IPM here.

July 26, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick Check 1.2.3.

Tick Check 1.2.3.

Just last week we posted a pretty good rundown on what to do about ticks—and how. So if you need a review, just call up “Tick, Tack, Toe the Line: Lyme Disease and What to Do” and carry on from there. Remember, the basic idea is no matter which life stage they’re at, know how to protect yourself. Because you can’t count on feeling them crawling on you.

And speaking of life cycles—OK, so the blacklegged tick’s larvae have finished, the nymphs are mostly dormant right now, and the adults have yet to strut their stuff. But that’s no reason to let down your guard. If you’ve been following our posts, you know that there’s a new tick in town (and if you’re following the news, another waiting in the wings.) Their life-cycles can be different. Be watchful!

So here’s what you do:

Two years. Yup. Ticks know how to make good use of their time.

Steer clear of hitchhikers. Ticks don’t survive long in most homes because of low humidity, but still—you’re safest if you put your clothes in a clothes dryer and run it on high heat for 20 minutes. The tumbling action of the dryer and the high heat kill ticks and similar critters.

Wear tick-killing clothing. Information on proper application of permethrin can be found on our post “Minimize tick risk while minimizing pesticide risk.” Also consider buying pretreated cloths or sending your outdoor socks, pants, and shirts for professional treatments.

(Permethrin is an insecticide in the pyrethroid family. Pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals that act like natural extracts from the chrysanthemum flower. BTW, plants can’t run—that’s why many have evolved chemical means of protection. So say I went the DIY route, soaked some mums in oil, put the oil in a spray bottle, and spritzed my pants. But it failed to repel or kill ticks the ticks I bumped up against. Why? Mums come with a cocktail of natural chemicals inside those lovely flowers. And for permethrin and thus for repelling and killing ticks, I’d need to have the right chemicals in my brew—not to mention the know-how for making the stuff.)

Here’s your full-on tick check. Did we say to be thorough? Well, we’re saying it now.

Check for ticks. It bears repeating. Do a tick check at least once a day. Get to know the spots and bumps on your skin so you can recognize new ones. New ones that just happen to have legs.

Protect your pets. Just like people, pets can encounter ticks and acquire tick-borne disease. They can also bring ticks inside with them, which might expose you to ticks. So if your pet goes outdoors, it should have some protection against ticks. Ask your vet. And give it a tick check too—every day.

Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see our post “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.

Swimming or bathing won’t kill ticks, whether attached or not.

Ticks have a different system of breathing than humans. You can immerse them in water for hours and they won’t croak. Besides, swimming or bathing might not be enough to remove an unattached tick crawling on your body. The best way to kill a tick? Remove it safely with pointy tweezers, then place in a jar of rubbing alcohol.

And there you have it. If we don’t see you at our statewide conference Breaking the Cycle: Integrated Management of Ticks and Mosquitoes on August 7 (9 AM at the Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave, White Plains, New York), we’ll have a video of the conference uploaded on our website soon after.

It’s not too late to register. Open to the public!

And, as always, we have more Tick Information on our DON’T GET TICKED NEW YORK homepage

 

 

 

 

 

July 18, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick, Tack, Toe the Line: Lyme Disease and What to Do

Tick, Tack, Toe the Line: Lyme Disease and What to Do

You’ve all heard about them, right? Yeah, the little buggers sneak up on you, bite you, and—maybe—make you sick. Sometimes really sick.

They’re not really bugs, of course, but tiny eight-legged critters remotely related to spiders but without the benefits spiders provide. (Note that adult females plump up like small grapes once they’ve satisfied their appetite.)

Just for fun, I wrote a sentence on my finger — period and all. And yep, the larvae are that small. (Courtesy Cal Dept Public Health)

For today, we’re considering blacklegged ticks, aka the deer tick—the name it was christened with years ago, before entomologists realized that tick is already here; has been for thousands of years—and it already has a name. Yes, we’ve got a couple of other ticks we can’t ignore. But that’s for another day.

So … the best reason for ditching the name “deer tick”? It suggests deer are the problem. OK, blacklegged ticks do infest deer and deer can travel widely, so yes, they carry them around in the literal sense and ticks will drop off here, there, most anywhere. But no, deer don’t vector (aka “carry”) Lyme disease. Look to mice, chipmunks, and shrews for that.

So. Back to the topic at hand. The youngest ticks are six-legged larvae, the size of the period at the end of this sentence—and with one exception, they don’t vector disease. (More on that in another post.) After they feed on, say, a mouse or robin, they morph into nymphs and grow as large as poppy seeds. Since poppy seeds with legs are still darn small, they’re the ones that most often nail us.

And the adults? They’re more likely to vector Lyme and the co-infections that too often accompany it or act in its stead. After all, ticks have adapted to be secretive; to keep from being detected. But since by now they’re the size of sesame seeds—still small, yes, but easier to see—you’re more likely to get shed of them before they do damage.

No matter which life stage they’re at, know how to protect yourself. Because you can’t count on feeling them crawling on you. Here’s the countdown:

Tick habitat—it’s everywhere.

Recognize and avoid tick habitat. Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out, but it’s possible to come too close for comfort to a tick anytime you leave the pavement. Sure, some parts of the state are home to orders of magnitude more ticks than others are, but that’s no reason to think you’re immune to those nasty little critters catching you unawares. And it’s so easy to be unaware.

Daily Tick Check! Regardless how careful you are, you won’t manage to steer clear of ticks 100 percent of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the spots and bumps on your skin so you can recognize new ones. New ones that just happen to have legs.

Dress the part. If you’ll be in tick habitat (meaning you step off the pavement), take precautions by wearing light-colored, long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. It’ll be easier to see ticks crawling on you and more difficult for ticks to get to your skin.

Get yourself some super-pointy tweezers, the type that airport security would probably confiscate. Be firm: steady and straight up until that sucker lets go.

Use repellents. Here’s more on choosing the right repellent.  and this guide from Consumer Reports.

Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.

Which is all we’ll say for now, other than on August 7 we’re hosting a statewide conference on—you guessed it—ticks. Oh … and skeeters, too:

  • Breaking the Cycle: Integrated Management of Ticks and Mosquitoes
  • Tuesday, August 7, 2018, 9 AM
  • Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave, White Plains, New York

July 12, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s Invasive Species Week, and …

It’s Invasive Species Week, and …

We’re smack-dab in the middle of Invasive Species Week, and we’ve got info for you.

Are you a gardener? Take a look at our Alternatives to Ornamental Invasive Plants. We’ve got garden flowers. Vines. Trees. Shrubs. Aquatics—plants that like wet feet but will do fine in many gardens.

Like to walk in the woods? Our Landscape and Forest Pest webpage alerts you to emerging pests.

New York is a hotspot for invasive species. Curious about the State of the State (as it were)—where things stand here? Take a look at our 2017 conference and watch this video.

Or you could go to NYIS.INFO … your gateway to science-based information, innovative tools, news and events—all for coping with biological invaders in New York.

Granted—it’s not the cheeriest of weeks, but it’s best we be aware. It is, after all, in our collective self-interest.

July 10, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on New Field Crops and Livestock Coordinator Joins NYS IPM

New Field Crops and Livestock Coordinator Joins NYS IPM

Greetings!  I’m Jaime Cummings, the new Field Crops and Livestock Coordinator at NYS IPM. My job? To work with field crop and livestock farmers on more than 3 million acres statewide who grow corn, hay, and other field crops and contribute to New York’s livestock industry. These farmers know all too well the problems that come with insect, disease and weed pests—problems that can change year to year.

They need IPM. Which means that each person who lives in New York and eats or drinks anything produced on a farm also needs IPM.

Jaime Cummings

Meet Jaime Cummings. Farmers, you’ll be seeing a lot of her soon.

My background is in plant pathology, and I come from Cornell’s Field Crops Pathology program. While there I focused on field research for dealing with plant diseases and mycotoxins (aka fungal toxins). I also provided diagnostics for statewide disease surveys on all major field crops. Along the way I also earned my Certified Crop Advisor certification (CCA) for the Northeast.

Integrated Pest Management for Field Crops and Livestock

Field crop and livestock farmers in New York face problems both new and old. For starters, unpredictable weather patterns can favor a different spectrum or intensity of disease and pest problems that vary from one year to the next. Meanwhile, invasive pests of all sorts are ever knocking at our borders. It’s critical to know not only how to address each issue, but also know when it’s economically feasible and environmentally responsible to do so. IPM scouting networks and forecasting methods help us better understand pest levels. This in turn helps farmers use well-defined thresholds for making solid management decisions.

And of course, IPM works for organic and conventional farmers alike. They all know there are no silver bullets or one-size-fits-all management strategies when it comes solving disease or pest problems—which is why we need to integrate pest management strategies for the best success. Any approach to managing pests and protecting crops that minimizes health and environmental hazards by the most economical means should be thoughtfully considered and implemented.

The goal? To prevent problems in the first place. True, sometimes nature tosses us a wild card we couldn’t have guessed at. Regardless—IPM helps farmers avoid wasteful treatments while offering other options that are good both for the environment and the farmer’s bottom line.

Looking Forward

Want to learn about IPM options for your farm? Please email me at jc2246@cornell.edu.  And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to the weekly field crops pest report http://blogs.cornell.edu/ipmwpr/ to stay up to date on statewide scouting and management updates.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you and wish you a safe and productive season.

June 19, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick Trickery

Tick Trickery

Got ticks on your mind? Your questions. Our answers:

How common are tick-borne diseases — and who is at risk?

Lyme disease is the second most common infectious disease in the entire U.S. But over 96% of all cases come from only 14 states. Now that’s scary, because New York and the Northeast are at dead center for tick trickery.

What looks like spilled ink? That’s where most ticks hang out. (CDC)

Indeed, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the entire United States — and the second disease most commonly reported to the Centers of Disease Control, aka the CDC. (It comes right after chlamydia and before gonorrhea—both sexually transmitted diseases that could strike most anywhere.)

Each year, the CDC gets reports of about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease. But most likely that’s just a fraction of the number of cases. The CDC estimates that each year between 300,000 and 400,000 people are infected with the bacteria causing Lyme — and children ages 5 to 9 have the greatest risk. Parents, check your kids for ticks every day. Make it as mandatory as brushing teeth. “Oh, they were outside for only 10 minutes” or “Oh, but we live in a big city. How could there ticks possibly be here?” — trust us, these aren’t reasons to skip.

Those numbers on the left-hand side? It’s 5-9 year-old boys who most often run into the wrong side of a tick. (CDC)

No, you don’t have to be an outdoor adventurer to be exposed to disease. People can chance upon ticks in all sorts of places. Pushing a friend on the swings, gardening, picnicking at the park, taking a shortcut through a vacant lot, raking leaves—any perfectly normal activity could put you or your kids on the wrong side of a tick.

What diseases do ticks transmit?

Lyme disease is hardly the only pathogen ticks carry. They can also carry anaplasmosis, babesiosis, erhrlichiosis, Powassan virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Borrelia miyamotoi—a bacteria related to the agent of Lyme disease. (More info: Lyme Disease by the Numbers.)

Naturally, different kinds of ticks transmit different disease-causing pathogens — and the list of tick-borne pathogens continues to grow. Plus ticks can transmit more than one pathogen at a time. Example? The blacklegged tick  (aka the deer tick) can transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis all at once. Here’s the short list:

  • Blacklegged tick: Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan virus
  • Lone star tick: ehrlichiosis, southern tick associated rash illness (STARI), tularemia
  • American dog tick: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia

Does every tick convey disease-causing pathogens?

No. Ticks don’t share a common destiny. Not every tick carries the pathogens that make us sick. Here in the Northeast, three ticks transmit pathogens—the blacklegged, lone star and American dog ticks.

Larval ticks, the stage that hatches from eggs with only six legs (nymphs and adults have eight legs), aren’t thought to play a major role in disease. But if larval ticks take their first blood meal from an infected animal, well—they’re infected too. Once they morph into nymphs, they can transmit whatever pathogens they took on.

Note: it’s possible that Powassan virus, carried by the blacklegged tick, can be transmitted from a female to her offspring — and that larval blacklegged ticks can transmit Borrelia miyamotoi, a type of relapsing disease. And what’s a relapsing disease? It’s when signs and symptoms of disease return after it seemed the disease was gone.

Blacklegged nymphs cause the most disease—partly because

  • they’re roughly the size of a poppy seed—not easy to see, and …
  • they’re active in spring when people aren’t thinking about ticks — though it’ll be summer before symptoms show.

Some nymphs and adults never acquire pathogens. Not every tick is infected. The rate of infection differs throughout the region. No common destiny there.

If I find a tick crawling on me, am I at risk for disease? And … how do they transmit disease?

Ticks transmit pathogens only while they’re attached and feeding. So no, a tick can’t infect you while it’s still looking for a place to feed. Once it’s fed, it’ll drop right off. That said:

  • if you find a tick crawling on you, don’t squish it
  • brushing ticks off your clothing is no guarantee they’ll stay off.

But if you keep a small vial of rubbing alcohol in your backpack or bag, you can quickly kill ticks by dropping them in. And that’s one less tick in your neck of the woods.

How do they make you sick? Ticks pick up pathogens from one organism (make that the mouse rummaging around under the shrubbery) and transmit them to another (make this one your kid). Here, not for the faint of heart, is how it works:

Larval ticks slide their mouthparts into the mouse — their soon-to-be host — and begin sucking blood. (Those mouthparts might seem a poor excuse for a head, but they get the job done.) At the same time, their saliva enters that mouse’s bloodstream — and yes, the saliva might be carrying pathogens. The time required for pathogens to pass from tick to host is variable. While viruses such as Powassan virus can be transferred within minutes, bacteria appear to take longer. (Just how long is open to debate, so we won’t get involved in that one.)

Need to remove a tick? Learn how here: Its tick season. Put away the matches.

We’ve got a couple of other posts in the pipeline, so we won’t return to this riveting topic until early or mid-July. But do stay tuned.

June 1, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The low-down on ticks. Part 1A, Biology Q&A

The low-down on ticks. Part 1A, Biology Q&A

Ticked off about ticks? You are not alone. And knowing the what, where, why, etc. is critical to knowing how to deal with them. So here it is, the first in a series: the low-down on that pest we love to hate.

May you, dear reader, stay tick-free and healthy.

1. What, exactly, is a tick?

Ticks are related to mites and spiders—but not to insects. (Now don’t go worrying about spiders—in the Northeast, virtually all are common victims of common misunderstandings.) Ticks have four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. All stages (well, not the eggs) feed on blood for energy to grow and later to reproduce. Larval ticks have six legs; nymphs and adults have eight.

Those things that look like antenna? Not—they’re highly adapted legs that process vital information. And that snout in the middle? Blood-sucking mouthparts. (Photo CDC)

Right now, three species are a health concern here in New York: the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick, and the American dog tick.

2. What do ticks look like?

Regardless the species, unfed ticks look like flattened teardrops with eight legs. And depending on their species, life stage and sex (male versus female), they have different color patterns on their bodies. But after they’ve eaten, their abdomens (the females’ especially) can expand so much that it’s really hard to know which is which. You can get positive IDs here.

Just keep in mind that learning a tick’s identity doesn’t mean you know if it’s carrying a disease.

I wrote a sentence on my finger, period and all. And yep, the larvae are that small. (Courtesy Cal Dept Public Health)

As for size? Again, that depends on the species, its life stage, and whether it has fed (and for how long). For blacklegged and lone star ticks, larvae are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Nymphs? Think poppy seeds. Adults? Sesame seeds. When fully fed, adult females can be as large as a raisin.

American dog ticks, though, are a tad larger than the other two.

3. Are ticks a new problem? Why have we been hearing so much more about them lately?

Turns out ticks are nothing new. In fact, evidence suggests that ticks were carrying Lyme disease pathogens 15 to 20 million years ago (Lyme Disease’s Possible Bacterial Predecessor Found in Ancient Tick). What is new? We’re seeing far more ticks throughout the Northeast and much of North America than during any time in recorded history. And of course the more ticks in the neighborhood, the greater our risk of disease.

Why are ticks on the move? For one, (sub)urban sprawl leaves small patches of wooded areas—great habitat for mice and deer but far less welcoming to their traditional enemies—hawks or foxes, cougars or wolves. (More later on the role of mice and deer in tick-borne diseases.) In addition, a warming climate makes northern areas more hospitable for ticks.

Ah, yes. A place to call home—and nary a wolf in sight. (Photo provided.)

4. Where do ticks live? How do they find me? And where did the deer ticks go?

Blacklegged ticks are usually found in woodlots, forest edges, and groundcovers such as pachysandra or periwinkle—places where leaf litter, shrubs, and tree cover provide the moist environment they need. And how do they find us? Just as we sometimes go on quests, so too do they. Only they’re not seeking adventure or the Holy Grail, but simply a host. A host that provides the food (think blood) they need to thrive, or at least survive.

About deer ticks? Years ago, researchers thought they’d found a new species and gave it the common name “deer tick.” Turned out it was the same old blacklegged tick that’s been here since time immemorial.

No matter that these ticks lack eyes—questing ticks stand on the edge of a twig or leaf, their first pair of legs extended. Evolution endowed them with cleverly designed legs: they’ve got sensors to detect temperature, the carbon dioxide those hosts exhale, and odors or sounds specific to those hosts. When a host brushes past, they grab on tight.

The nymphs typically quest below a person’s knee-height. Because adult ticks feed on larger animals, they might quest higher up to find a host—as high as your waist-height or mine.

The lone star tick is on a roll, with its own suite of diseases and syndromes — some still mysterious. (Photo CDC)

The lone star tick thrives in a wide range of habitats, from shady forests to sunny lawns or roadsides. Unlike the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick hustles toward its prey, even across pavement or dry sand. Other distinguishing features? Well … it’s lots more aggressive. Imagine a tick that travels three times as fast as the blacklegged tick, has excellent vision, and hatches in stinging swarms that can put fire ants to shame.

Last but not least—the American dog tick. Forget the woods: this tick thrives in warm, dry places—roadsides, grassy fields, scrubland and lawns. Larvae and nymphs mostly feed on small mammals, while adults climb grass, brush, or twigs to find medium-sized animals—people included. And sometimes American dog ticks could be even more aggressive. TickEncounter has reported seeing American dog ticks follow a regular source of carbon dioxide that attracted them for upward a few hundred yards to the house. And in one memorable case ticks were crawling up the outside walls toward window screens and doors. Now if that doesn’t give you the willies….

No matter which tick you might collide with—this is one party you don’t want to host.

Stay tuned for another informative post on the biology behind that pest we love to hate.

(Adapted from nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/tick-faqs#answers)

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