New York State IPM Program

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)

May 24, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Minimize tick risk while minimizing pesticide risk

Minimize tick risk while minimizing pesticide risk

“I already found a tick on me!” – many people across NY

Many New Yorkers still equate tick activity with summertime, but blacklegged ticks, the ones that carry Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan virus, and Borrelia miamyoti, are most active in the spring and fall. (They can actually be active year round if the temperature and humidity levels are just right. Thus the heavy activity on the warm days in February.)

The goal is to prevent ticks from becoming embedded in the first place. But if you do find an embedded tick, remove it properly!

And in the springtime the blacklegged tick nymph turns to thoughts of questing. And nymphs are small. Poppy seed-sized small. If you are not intentionally conducting a daily tick check, you could easily miss one. And even if you are intentionally looking, one can occasionally get through your visual defenses. Which is why I was able to take this tick removal video after finding this tiny nymph on my leg when using my fingertips to search by feel. Since Powassan virus can be transmitted after 15 minutes of the tick being embedded, the incentive for not being bitten has risen dramatically.

Which brings us to the use of clothing treatments to protect ourselves. Permethrin is a pesticide that can be applied to clothing, footwear and gear before exposure. Researchers for the Center for Disease Control recently conducted a study showing how permethrin interferes with blacklegged, American dog, and lone star ticks’ ability to move and, thus, to bite. Read about it here.

Now the easiest option is to buy pretreated clothing or have your clothes professionally treated. The TickEncounter Resource Center has an excellent section of their website about tick repellent clothes, including where to get them.

For DIYers, permethrin can be purchased at many sporting goods and big box stores as a liquid or aerosol spray. But it must be applied safely and correctly. I try not to react in horror as people tell me they will spray the clothes they are wearing just prior to walking out the door. This product must NOT be applied to clothing while it is being worn. Or when one’s husband announces that he left his newly treated clothing in the basement. (And, yes, he sprayed the clothes down there too.) Permethrin must be applied outdoors. Don’t take my word for it. This information, and more, is found on the label. Let’s take a close look at the label from a commonly found product. (Does not imply endorsement.)

The label is the law and will tell you everything you need to know about using a pesticide correctly and legally.

The label, which is vetted through the EPA and, in NY, the DEC, provides information on the following topics (with a few examples thrown in):

  • Signal Word – this is your clue to how dangerous the pesticide is. To put it simply, categories include Caution (slightly toxic), Warning (moderately toxic), and Danger (highly toxic). This formulation of permethrin is labeled Caution.
  • DIRECTIONS FOR USE – includes, but is not limited to:
    • SHAKE WELL BEFORE USING. (Emphasis theirs. It must be important!)
    • This product must not be applied to clothing while it is being worn. Under no circumstances should bare skin or clothing on the body be treated. (Emphasis also theirs.)
    • Make all applications outside.
  • STORAGE & DISPOSAL
    • Store in a cool, dry place inaccessible to children.
    • Never place unused product down any indoor or outdoor drain
  • PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS – includes “Do not use on humans.”
  • FIRST AID – in case you didn’t follow the precautionary statements.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS
    • This product is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

We hit just some of the highlights, but it is all important. The label not only provides suggestions for using the product safely – the label is the law. That too is on the label: “Buyer assumes all risks of use, storage or handling of this product not in strict accordance with directions given herewith.”

So what is one to do? Why, follow the label of course. Decide which clothes you might wear into tick infested places and “select an outdoor area protected from the wind, spray outer surfaces of clothing (while not being worn) with a slow sweeping motion to lightly moisten the surface of the fabric, holding pump at a distance of 6 to 8 inches. Treat outer surfaces of each outfit, front and back, for 30 seconds on each side and allow to dry for at least 2 hours (4 hours under humid conditions). Pay particular attention to socks, trouser cuffs, and shirt cuffs.”

Then plan for the next application. “Clothing should be retreated after six weeks or after the sixth laundering to maintain adequate protection” I both mark the day I sprayed in my calendar and schedule an appointment for six weeks later.

By the way, professionally treated clothing also has a label, often found on the hang tag when purchased. Be sure to follow those instructions carefully as well.

For more information about permethrin, visit the National Pesticide Information Center and EPA. And for more information on ticks, tick-borne diseases, why there are so many of them, and how to protect yourself, check out our new improved tick page – www.dontgettickedny.org.

April 27, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The New Tick in Town (Part ll.)

The New Tick in Town (Part ll.)

Now for the science-y part of this post. (I suggest you re-read Part l. Can’t hurt. Might help.)

If you’ve read our other posts on the blacklegged tick (aka the deer tick), you might guess—and rightly so—that it’s the tick that’s been on our radar the longest; the one we (still) give most of our time and attention to. And all for good reason.

Sheer numbers (how much Lyme disease we’ve seen; what the co-infections are and how commonplace they are; its reputation as the “great imitator”) keep the blacklegged tick in the spotlight. Meanwhile, with the exception of Long Island, the lone star tick is rarely seen in the metro New York area and points north. But it has colonized some islands off Connecticut and established a toehold on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

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

Indeed, the lone star tick’s potential for harm could, somewhere down the pike, become a force all northerners face.

And consider this: though deer serve as a great food source and taxi service for ticks, they are immune to Lyme disease. Not so with the lone star tick. Because given the right circumstances, it can kill even deer.

So … what diseases or conditions does this tick carry—and could any be fatal to people? Here’s the short list:

  • Ehrlichiosis is nasty. Upward of two percent of those who get it might die.
  • Tularemia is nasty too, though less so than ehrlichiosis.
  • Heartland virus is rare—and most people who do get it have mild symptoms; perhaps none at all. But yes, some will die.
  • Alpha-gal syndrome? Perhaps—especially if you don’t know it for what it is. While the symptoms can be frighteningly intense, not everyone reacts with that same level of intensity. Plus this syndrome’s transcontinental spread in places lacking lone star ticks leads to yet-unanswered questions.

Ouch! Lone star ticks attach quickly—and some people react quickly. Sometimes it looks like this. (Credit: Copyright © 2015 American Medical Association)

So how about STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness—can it do you in? My careful search turned up zilch, zip, zero. Doesn’t mean STARI won’t send you to an early grave. But if it could, I can’t find credentialed scientific sources to back up such a claim. You’ll be interested to know, though, that the rash STARI stands for can, on the surface of things, make you think you might have Lyme disease. And more unanswered questions: as of August 2017, the pathogen that causes STARI remains unknown.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

 

 

April 18, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The New Tick in Town (Part l.)

The New Tick in Town (Part l.)

The aggressive lone star tick, named for the white spot on the female’s back should scare the willies out of you. Its resume includes ehrlichiosis, tularemia, the heartland virus (luckily, this virus is rare) and alpha-gal syndrome—a frankly scary allergy to red meat. And while this might be new tick in town, it’s indigenous to the southern U.S.

Could it carry Lyme disease? Highly unlikely.

Compared to a dime, this tick is mighty small, but the blacklegged tick is smaller. Courtesy CDC.

This tick is just a tad larger than the blacklegged tick. Like the blacklegged tick, it hangs out in brushy edge habitat and tall grass. It likes woodsy thickets, too. And just like the blacklegged tick, the newly-hatched larval lone star is disease-free—pure as the fallen snow. But as soon as it hatches, it’s out questing—looking for that essential blood meal it can’t live without.

Yet unlike blacklegged tick that, as larvae and nymphs, prefers to take its meals on wild mice and chipmunks, the lone star isn’t picky. Deer, coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, turkeys and, yes, our pets and us—if these hosts are already infected with the diseases the lone star tick carries, then those larvae are infected too. What defines “larvae” on the world of ticks? Note the six legs, unlike eight-legged nymphs and adults.

Yes, the lone star tick is on a roll. But it hasn’t established a strong presence in most of upstate NY. Yet. (Courtesy CDC)

And the lone star has a loose life cycle. In the South, it’s usually a one (year) and done thing. In the North, this tick might not have gotten its requisite blood meal by the time winter blows in. So whatever stage it’s at, it just hunkers down in leaf litter and waits till spring. Also unlike the blacklegged adult, which is up and about anytime it gets into the mid-30s, the lone star tick favor balmy weather. For them, the 50s are more like it. And as always, the IPM mantra—prevention—is the way to go.

Other differences from the blacklegged tick? 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.

Ah… I do so hate to leave you in suspense. But there’s more to come—next week. Same time (more or less), same place, same station.

 

Skip to toolbar