New York State IPM Program

October 10, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

These days if you live near anything green — a suburban development, however humble or high-class; a neighborhood park where shrubs and meadow flowers grow — best you’d read up on ticks, be they black-legged ticks (aka deer ticks) or lone-star ticks (so named for the silvery white dot on the female’s back). While you’re at it, read up on Lyme disease and its suite of co-infections, some nastier even than Lyme.

And know this: no magic spray or treatment will eliminate ticks.

Researchers are investigating area-wide tick management options (The Tick Project) and working to understand how habitat management (The Tick Management Handbook; Japanese Barberry Control Methods) and host management (mice, deer) affect tick populations. But it’s up to you to protect yourself — knowing that prevention is the best cure.

  1. Wear tick-killing clothing. Buy over-the-counter permethrin spray and spray it on your clothing and gear. Used according to the label, permethrin binds to the material and can kill ticks, mosquitoes and other pests following a lethal exposure. Do-it-yourself treatments can remain effective for up to seven washes. Also consider buying pretreated cloths or sending your outdoor socks, pants, and shirts for professional treatments. These can be protected for up to 70 washes.

    Follow label instructions for do-it-yourself clothing treatments.

  2. Use repellants. DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 all repel ticks. The percentage of active ingredient on the label indicates how long that product will be active in the field. For more on choosing the right repellant see our previous post, “Understanding over-the-counter sprays for mosquitoes and ticks” (June 2, 2015) and this guide from Consumers Reports.
  3. Ticks wait for a passing host on vegetation or in leaf litter. Staying on trails can reduce your exposure to ticks.

    Recognize and avoid tick habitat.Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out. The blacklegged tick (transmits Lyme disease) is found at adult knee-height and below in wooded or brushy areas. When hiking, stay on the trail and away from these areas. If you’ll be in tick habitat, take precautions by wearing long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. These steps make it more difficult for ticks to get to your skin. If you’ve treated your clothing with permethrin, this can also increase the exposure of the ticks to the acaracide — the tick-killing substance.

  4. Steer clear of hitchhikers. 

    Isolate exposed items in large, zippered plastic bags to avoid bringing ticks indoors.

    Ticks can be carried on clothing or gear that you used outdoors — gear that you haven’t used permethrin or a repellent on. True, ticks don’t survive long in most homes because of low humidity, but still — you’re safest if you change your clothes and place exposed items in a large, zippered plastic bag in an entryway. Put them in a clothes dryer and run on high heat for 20 minutes. The tumbling action of the dryer and the high heat kill ticks and similar critters. [Note: don’t wash clothes first. Even the hottest cycle might not kill ticks, and it increases the drying time needed.]

  5. Check for ticks. Taking all these steps doesn’t mean you will avoid ticks 100% of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the marks on your skin and recognize new ones. New marks that, if you touch them, just happen to have legs.
  6. 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.
  7. Protect your pets.

    Grooming after outdoor activity with a fine-toothed brush can remove ticks in pet fur.

    Just like people, pets can encounter ticks and acquire tick-borne disease. If your pet goes outdoors, it should have some protection against ticks. TickEncounter describes some of the options available for your pets, including oral and spot-on medications as well as collars. Speak to your veterinarian about the best option for protecting your pet against tick bites. Regular grooming with a fine-tooth comb after being outdoors can help to remove ticks that have not attached to your pet’s skin.

Additional Resources:
What’s Bugging You? tick page
Other tick-related posts

August 24, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Getting ticked? Bummed about Lyme disease? You’re not alone

Getting ticked? Bummed about Lyme disease? You’re not alone

An NYS IPM Your NEWA Blog entry dropped into my inbox a couple of days ago — and since the entire conversation on my bus ride into work today was about ticks, a topic no one seemed to tire of, I just had to borrow from it for this post.

Here’s how it begins:

“Getting ticked? You’re not the only one.” That’s my colleague Dan Olmstead speaking. He continues:

“I was at Empire Farm Days working the New York State IPM Program booth last week. What do you think the most asked-about topic was?

“Every question I answered was about ticks. Ticks are most well-known as carriers of Lyme disease and they are on the rise. Changing weather and climate patterns could be partly to blame. Growing seasons are getting longer and ticks have more time to develop.”

Dan goes on to explain that range expansion is another likely factor coinciding with increasing numbers of mice and deer. These critters do well in fragmented habitat, whether it’s overgrown field, hedgerows — or expanding suburbs.

Mice infected with Lyme transmit it to the young ticks that feed on them. Meanwhile deer (birds too) pick up ticks in one place and ferry them to new, perhaps un-infested locations — making them complicit in transmitting Lyme disease despite the fact that, at least on deer, Lyme-free ticks (and yes, such ticks exist) won’t contract Lyme by feeding on deer.

But the black-legged tick (aka deer tick), host to Lyme disease and several other nasty co-infections, isn’t the only dog in the fight. It has friends — as it were. Here (courtesy the Centers for Disease Control) are the ticks we see and the most common diseases now associated with them:

Black-legged Ticks  Lyme, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Powassan virus
Lone Star Ticks    Erlichiosis, STARI, and Tularemia
American Dog Ticks   Tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Brown Dog Ticks Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

When Empire Farm Days rolled around in early August, the tiny nymphs — the most dangerous stage for us humans — were still at it, still clambering onto the tall grasses and low brush or meadow plants that they’d perched on most every chance they got since May. They were waiting for the right host to come by. It’s called questing. And yes, these ticks are — metaphorically at least — on a quest that for them means life or death. (Most die but plenty remain.)

True, by now in late August, their populations have peaked. But even so they’re still eight-armed and dangerous.

Eight-armed? OK — make that eight-legged.

And typically by early August, it’s too hot and dry anyway for ticks to quest for hosts. But by early August this year, our colleague Joellen Lampman hadn’t seen the usual summer decline in black-legged tick questing. Ticks like to quest when humidity is greater than 85%, and 2017 assuredly hasn’t been stingy on that account.

Got ticks on your mind? Bummed because you’re stuck inside and feel like you can’t get out in the woods like you used to? Worried because deer have found your neighborhood, regardless how populated your neighborhood? Wondering how best to protect yourself? Seek no further: Tick Encounter is your one-stop shopping for everything you need to know. Check it out.

February 24, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Every Season Is Tick Season

Every Season Is Tick Season

At IPM we call it the black-legged tick because that’s its true name. Yet most people in North America — perhaps even you, dear reader — call it the deer tick. A name with curious stories to tell.

But first the commercial: every season is tick season. Impervious to all but the most bitter cold, ticks take shelter in the leaf litter in gardens and woods. Whenever it gets a little above freezing, they crawl out and up. Any adults that failed to find a host earlier in winter or fall scramble into knee-high vegetation. (Females need a blood meal before they can lay eggs.) There they wait patiently for some critter to brush against whatever stalk they’re clinging to, and when it does — they grab hold.

Courtesy of TickEncounter at the University of Rhode Island, this image shows all the life-cycle info you need to know.

Courtesy of TickEncounter at the University of Rhode Island, this image shows all the life-cycle info you need to know.

Even during this fickle February of 2016, when many places south of the Adirondacks have repeatedly lost their snow cover, leaving the barren ground to freeze hard, those ticks keep ticking along. Yes, many die. But many remain. On lovely sunshiny days when you wander outside to shake off a bout of cabin fever, be sure to dress right to keep ticks off you.

And having done that, relentlessly check yourself for ticks when you get inside.

Now back to our story. That name — deer tick — suggests that deer carry Lyme disease. If you’ve had a bout with Lyme or any of the less-than-pleasant co-infections that black-legged ticks also vector, just thinking of Bambi could give you the chills. But while deer assuredly spread ticks far and wide, they don’t vector Lyme. Which means a tick that is Lyme-free won’t pick up the Lyme pathogen from a deer.

The buck stops there.

Verdant summer meadows? Come winter, the ticks are still there.

Verdant summer meadows? Stay vigilant. It’s too easy to pick up tiny, hard to see nymphs  — ones already vectoring Lyme.

The critters that most commonly carry Lyme disease — notably mice, but also shrews and chipmunks — assuredly do get Lyme disease. But odd as it seems, it doesn’t knock them out. Instead they just keep chugging along, doing their mouse or shrew or chipmunk thing. Which includes transmitting the Lyme pathogen to ticks throughout their life cycle. Ticks that grow larger and larger. Ticks that eventually — instead of hanging out low to the ground where the mice are — become large enough to scramble into knee-high vegetation where they’re yet more likely to land on some hapless human. Or dog, raccoon, fox, coyote, skunk, cat, sheep, a ground-nesting bird, cow, horse … the list goes on.

Some, like deer and probably other wild animals, don’t get particularly ill — though it’s not been closely studied. But dogs, horses, and humans (less likely, cats) can get knocked for a loop. Even so, we likewise don’t transmit Lyme; the tick would already need to be infected. The buck stops there.

The next commercial: about that tick that snuck aboard during your post-lunch walk in the curiously warm February sun … you might not have as much time to deal with it as once was thought. Sure, in some cases it’ll be 24 to 48 hours before that tick starts transmitting Lyme. And not every tick carries Lyme or other diseases.

But still, better safe than sorry. Because recent research suggests: as you sit down to dinner that tick might already be dining too, but with consequences you don’t want to bear. Knowing that, relentlessly check yourself for ticks when you get inside. And even if you don’t care for school grounds or a summer camp, this IPM fact sheet is rich with useful information.

Many thanks to Rick Ostfeld (Senior Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies) and Joellen Lampman (Turfgrass Specialist, NYS IPM).

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