New York State IPM Program

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 28, 2018
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on What can I spray for …

What can I spray for …

What can I spray for ants and other critters?

Nobody—not even an entomologist like me—wants to see critters in their home, office, school, or favorite restaurant. But see them we do. And unfortunately, the first reaction most people have is to reach for a can of bug spray and hose the place down.

But what does this really accomplish? Two things: a quick kill of only the critters you sprayed, and you’ve now left a coating of pesticides wherever you sprayed. Satisfied? Probably not, since your goal is to solve the problem, not just kill a few critters. If so, then put down the bug spray and walk away—slowly.

When we think of pests, we might imagine them as vile creatures that are intentionally tormenting us. The truth, however, is that pests are always there for a reason. Maybe they are inside because they found a gap leading to a safe place to spend the winter (think brown marmorated stink bug, ladybug, or boxelder bug). Or maybe your gutters are clogged and there is a moisture problem inviting to carpenter ants. Or you have overripe bananas with the stem torn at the top, exposing the fruit within, and now you see fruit flies. While it’s true that a spray might kill pests—so too can a swift shoe.

But if we want to develop a solution that addresses the issue and prevents future problems, we must follow two simple steps:

Inspection. Where are the pests found and how did they get there? It might feel like your whole house is infested, but with a thorough inspection you can often find the source of a problem by looking for where the critters or their evidence are most numerous. If you can find the source of where they are feeding or breeding, chances are you can do them in.

Identification. Knowing the identity of a pest tells you why it is there. It’s also a necessity for crafting a sound management plan. For example, this spring I received many calls about ants. Even when callers had tried sprays, they were ineffective. Why? Each pest is there for a different reason—and needs its own management approach.

  • Carpenter ants trailing on the outside of a building

    Carpenter ants trailing on the outside of a building might be moving from outdoor parent nests to indoor satellite nests.

    Case 1: Ants in Rental Home! Using a few pictures to determine size and the number of nodes, the ants were identified as carpenter ants, which do not actually eat wood. Instead, they excavate rotten wood to make their nests. This means carpenter ants indicate a moisture problem somewhere in the structure; an important problem you might not otherwise have known about. So in an oddball way, you owe them a debt of gratitude. And although parent nests are typically outdoors, satellite nests can be found inside buildings—so an inspection is needed to discover where the ants are living. This can be accomplished by baiting and tracking ants to the source, then eliminating the rotten wood and ant nest. For more details, see our carpenter ant fact sheet.

  • Case 2: Ants in Bathroom! These ants are identified by how they smell when crushed. Their name? The odorous house ant (abbreviated OHA). They build nests in moist locations and forage indoors for spilled foods.
    odorous house ants

    Odorous house ants can move their entire colony or split into several colonies — making it tough to deal with them. (Credit: Janet Hurley)

    Based on their biology, OHA can be difficult to manage because the colony is mobile—moving nest locations at will—and can actually split into multiple colonies if sprayed or for other reasons. To date, the best method to control OHA are certain baits that, when placed correctly, can be spread throughout the colony to achieve control.

  • Case 3: Winged Ants Indoors! Known as citronella ants by their smell, this species isn’t really a pest of homes because they don’t eat what we eat, nor are they at home indoors. Instead they live in the soil and feed on secretions from root-feeding insects. But they can be a nuisance when winged ants emerge into homes. Since their sole purpose in life is finding a new place to live, spraying or baiting are pointless. To avoid problems down the line, you’ll need to eliminate the cracks and crevices where ants are getting inside.

    Foraging pavement ants bring bait back to the nest and spread throughout the colony. They’re a great target for baits.

After you’ve found where the pests really are and ID’d them correctly, you can a develop short-term plan to reduce their numbers and long-term solutions that fix the conditions that allowed or enticed them in in the first place.

Need help identifying a pest? Here are some options:

To identify common structure infesting ants:

May 15, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Poison ivy (like the Rolling Stones said …)

Poison ivy (like the Rolling Stones said …)

… and now, more than ever, poison ivy’s gonna make you itch. (The Rolling Stones)

I remember the first time I had poison ivy. The particulars are long lost along memory lane. Even so, it was unforgettable. Most likely I was about five years old and, as a born and bred tomboy, I’d been scrambling around in the woods. From that point forward I knew exactly what poison ivy looked like. Sometimes it’s shrubby or low to the ground. Other times its hairy, ropelike vines, thicker than my wrists, twine their way up trees like ropes on the masts of tall sailing ships of yore—or so I imagine them. And yes, the vines are poisonous too.

“Leaves of three, let it be.” Of course there’s more to ID’ing poison ivy. Read on. (Photo Massachusetts Audubon)

Only once since have I gotten poison ivy—not a bad case, either. I was, after all, dressed for the occasion. I was hunting it down, one tangled root after the next, from the woods behind a friend’s daycare home. Toddlers, as we all can appreciate, are simply too young to learn the perils of poison ivy. I hauled it out of there by the bushelful. Funny that after all these years I’ve no clue what I did with it.

Burn it I did not, that’s for sure. I have the merest sketch of a memory—my mom telling me how she’d breathed the smoke from a burning heap of the stuff. Nasty. Can make you really (really) sick—a serious occupational hazard of forest-firefighters.

But these days poison ivy isn’t just a hassle for woodsy sorts who live well past the edges of nearby villages and towns. It’s getting worse for everyone, though some more than others. Why? Let’s fast-forward to the here and now. To a relative here-and-now; the research I’m citing was published in 2006 in PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Research that, btw, has yet to lose its gloss. News stories as recent as 2015 (The New York Times) cite that study in noting the likely consequences of an inadvertent brush with the stuff—especially if you live in a big city. Sure, urban dwellers always had to cope with this wicked vine too. But now they have lots more to worry about than country folk do.

More CO2 in the air is like putting poison ivy on steroids. (Image Climate Central)

Why? Lewis Ziska, one of the lead scientists on the six-year study in a forest at Duke University, found that with increased atmospheric CO2 we get bigger, stronger, leafier poison ivy. Poison ivy that can be way more potent in large cities. Here’s how it works:

Mega-cities are proxies for the planet. They have as much carbon dioxide in their air as the rest of the planet will have in 50 years or so. And CO2 is plant food. Like so many other plants, especially weeds (more on that some other day), poison ivy responds by piling on the pounds, as it were—and producing more urushiol.

If it’s climbing up your apartment building, what better reason could you have than learning to ID poison ivy? (Photo poison-ivy.org)

Haven’t heard of urushiol? It’s the toxic oil that causes that nasty rash. Ziska confirmed those findings in a follow-up study in growth chambers. His calculations, he told Climate Central, are based on the CO2 levels at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Administration (aka NOAA) Mauna Loa research station in Hawaii. What did the research tell him? CO2 concentrations on the ground, where poison ivy actually grows, are usually about 10 percent higher than they were in 1950—not long before my first encounter with poison ivy. And in urban areas they can be up to 30 percent higher.

Thirty percent. Take a moment to absorb that.

Not only that, but from parks to vacant lots, cities mimic the fragmented forests you see wherever a suburb has muscled its way into the landscape. And poison ivy likes fragmented landscapes. It also likes—well, what doesn’t it like? Poison ivy can grow in swampy forest edges and concrete rubble; along fences; in parks or on school grounds; or up and around homes and apartment buildings. So wherever you are, learn to ID poison ivy. “Leaves of three, let it be” is where you start. But some harmless plants also have clusters of three leaves. After all, the numero-uno IPM mantra for any environmental issue is prevention. And prevention is based on having a solid ID.

Curious? Want to check it out? Not! Just walk on by. (Photo TownVibe Wilton)

But surely you’re safe during winter? If only. Unlike many other weeds, which die back when the weather turns cold, the urushiol in poison ivy will get you regardless of the weather. Beware of leafless vines. This is not the time to try and yank them off your trees. If the toxin gets on your gloves or coveralls, it can get on you.

I could say so much more about no end of things related to poison ivy or rising CO2 (or both) … including (for instance) sleek vs. long-haired dogs and cats or the food choices of goats, muskrats and deer. But I have to stop somewhere. And that somewhere? It’s here.

 

March 16, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Pests, Pesticides and Proposals: Funding IPM Community Projects

Pests, Pesticides and Proposals: Funding IPM Community Projects

Pests and pesticides—both can pose problems to our health, our environment, and our economy. At the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM), we help New Yorkers address those problems safely and thoughtfully. How? Through innovative biological, cultural, technological, and educational practices. IPM, in a word.

Community IPM takes place in settings as varied as school buildings and grounds; residential and office buildings; gardens, parks and landscapes; and golf courses and right-of-ways. Now we invite grant proposals from qualified New Yorkers who want to develop, evaluate, or demonstrate feasible IPM methods. Budgets must not exceed $8,500. Our deadline: April 6, 2018. Funds must be spent by February 28, 2019.

The German cockroach needs no introduction. If it can get on your fork, it can get in your food. Credit Clemson University, USDA.

All projects must accomplish one or more of the following:

  • develop, advance, test or refine new IPM strategies;
  • demonstrate a link between IPM practices and reduced risk to human health or pesticide residues;
  • measure the positive change or potential impact of IPM practices or adoption, or survey current IPM knowledge;
  • develop Community IPM resources, such as brochures, websites, fact sheets, manuals, and apps for smartphones and tablets;
  • develop IPM educational programs, such as workshops or curriculum;
  • educate others about IPM through outreach and demonstrations.

Audiences could include school administrators, teachers and students; landscape and structural pest management professionals; vector control specialists; municipal employees; nuisance wildlife control operators; golf course personnel; arborists; right-of-way managers; day care operators—just about anyone, in fact. We encourage projects that reach new audiences or develop new partnerships.

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

Our Community IPM priorities include: develop or demonstrate solid strategies for dealing with rodents or cockroaches; develop, confirm or promote methods to lessen the impact of ticks; research, demonstrate or create outreach projects that promote pollinator health and conservation; and research and demonstrate alternatives to imidacloprid on lawns and athletic fields.

Yes, there are plenty more. But for 2018, these four are our greatest needs.

Got Questions? We encourage you to discuss your ideas with NYS IPM community staff, including:

  • coordinator: Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, Long Island, 631-539-8680, jlg23@cornell.edu (Do you work outside Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension? Get in touch with Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann.)
  • educator: Lynn Braband, Rochester, 585-753-2562, lab45@cornell.edu
  • educator: Amara Dunn, Geneva, 315-787-2206, arc55@cornell.edu
  • educator: Matthew Frye, Westchester, 914-285-4633, mjf267@cornell.edu
  • educator: Joellen Lampman, Albany, 518-441-1303, jkz6@cornell.edu

NYS IPM Ornamentals IPM Staff

  • coordinator: Elizabeth Lamb, Ithaca, 607-254-8800, eml38@cornell.edu
  • educator: Brian Eshenaur, Rochester, 585-753-2561, bce1@cornell.edu

And consider: the most common critiques of past proposals have been that the budget lacked in clarity, explanation or justification—and those seeking grants didn’t discuss projects ahead of time with IPM staff.

March 7, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on So many acres, so little time: IPM’s answer to where the pests are

So many acres, so little time: IPM’s answer to where the pests are

It might not look that way from your car window, but farmland covers 23 percent of New York. It’s the foundation of New York’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural economy—one that benefits all of us, no matter where we live.

Zooming out to read the report? How easy it is to forget a severe drought after a year like 2017.

Most of that cropped land? It’s in field crops: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and the like. (These crops sustain New York’s dairy industry, third in the nation.)  Scouting all that land for pests? A job for super-heroes—or lacking that, an efficient, well-designed app.

So IPM researchers built the app. Now Extension educators with their boots on the ground and a smartphone in their pocket can note hotspots for bad little buggers. Each entry helps map trends that matter: where the pests are, when they got there, and where they’re likely to show up next.

The educators’ audience? Why, farmers, of course.

True, right now the app is mainly used by educators tracking data. But the turnaround is quick, keeping farmers in the know and New York’s farm economy healthy. Think of it as scouting on steroids. Scouting is what keeps farmers abreast of what’s happening out in the field and what they can do to prevent or minimize damage (core values of IPM!). Downloading the data farmers need, then visualizing, manipulating, and editing it—that and more, this app does it all.

January 31, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Hops on top

Hops on top

Sometimes on a snowy evening there’s fine company to be had with good friends and a six-pack from your local brewery. So settle back and take a moment to savor what it took to get you there.

Hops flowers, once fully mature and used wet or properly dried, provide the distinctive taste that brewers build on to craft their beers. Photo provided.

Long ago yet close to home — the mid 19th through the early 20th centuries — New York led the world in hops production. Back then, we supplied that critical beer ingredient for breweries worldwide. But then two new and dastardly fungal diseases blew in and put an end to all that.

Now it’s déjà-vu all over again. With microbreweries and tasting rooms on the upswing, hop yards are too.

Yes, hops can be prey to the usual range of pests lurking in the soil or pathogens drifting in on the wind. But with Cornell’s IPM research there to support farmers, it’s different this time around. Today’s growers have a clear advantage that yesteryear’s famers sorely lacked — detailed production guides that cover a range of new techniques and research on biological and ecological IPM tactics unknown a century ago. Example? Flowering cover crops that not only suppress weeds but serve as a nectary to attract and retain the beneficial insects that keep pests under control.

Cosmos are an old-time favorite for gardeners, but hops growers have learned they provide nectar for minute (as in “tiny”) pirate bugs. These pirate bugs are a welcome predator of a difficult pest — the two-spotted spider mite. Photo provided.

Of course there’s more — much more — and IPM’s presence at the Cornell Lake Erie Research and Extension Laboratory contributes to careful research now published in the Cornell Integrated Hops Production Guide and available to farmers throughout New York and the Northeast. Let’s raise a glass to the growers and researchers who have made this possible.

Contact NYSIPM educator Tim Weigle at thw4@cornell.edu for more info on this project. Learn more about hops production at  Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science. Cornell also has a strong presence at the Northeast Hops Alliance.

 

January 23, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on One bug at a time: how biocontrol helps you, even in winter

One bug at a time: how biocontrol helps you, even in winter

Sure it’s winter. But many greenhouse growers work year-round. And what’s this about biocontrols? In fields, orchards, vineyards, and greenhouses—especially greenhouses—biocontrols are the predators and parasites that keep pests in check, minus the pesticides. What’s special about greenhouses? They’re where pests consistently find plenty of food, just-right temperatures, and little to stop them from bounding out of control. The linchpin that drives the search for alternatives to pesticides? Consumer demand.

Looks like sawdust—but it’s really bran infused with the tiny eggs or larvae of beneficial insects.

Which is where biocontrols fit in. These critters evolved to eat pests for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But there’s a learning curve involved. You can’t bring in the good guys and call it a day. Use a broad-spectrum pesticide and you’ll do them in. Which is why an Extension educator in the six-county New York Capitol District crafted a series of workshops to help growers get the hang of that seemingly simple IPM practice: biocontrol.

Since seeing is believing, growers attended a series of workshops where they saw start-to-finish biocontrol in action. What did they learn?

Examples

  • how to distribute marigolds throughout their greenhouses as a thrips (bad guy) magnet
  • how to apply a nematode drench to control the fungus gnats that eat roots
  • which 17 biocontrols can collectively cope with 21 bad guys
  • how the IPM Greenhouse Scout app helps you choose among them

Little sachets are another way greenhouse growers can introduce those tiny, good-guy bugs to the posies that need them.

As for consumer demand? People worry about pesticides on their posies. In theory, biocontrol appeals to them. But they haven’t seen it in action. If they see bugs, any bugs, good guys included—they might worry. That’s why a simple, colorful flier is part of the package, helping growers bring the message back to their base—their customers.

Want to learn more? Check out Extension educator Lily Calderwell’s Getting Started with Biocontrol in the Greenhouse.

January 5, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Ticks and the freezing weather

Ticks and the freezing weather

“That is a bracing cold, an invigorating cold. Lord, is it cold!” – Sheldon Cooper

It is inevitable that when the temperatures drop below zero we are asked “Will this extended period of extremely low temps kill off ticks?”

First, the bad news. We do not expect the cold to directly affect blacklegged or dog ticks as they are adapted to this climate and will survive just fine under the blankets of leaf litter and snow.

The good news, followed by some bad news, is we are basically looking at a reversal of the large quantities of ticks in 2017 that began in 2015 when oaks in New York underwent a mast seeding event. (In simple terms, there was an enormous amount of acorns on the ground across the state. If you want to delve more deeply into the mast year phenomenon, check out Mechanisms of mast seeding: resources, weather, cues, and selection.) Abundant quantities of food led to a large quantity of small mammals in 2016. Large numbers of small mammals led to a substantial number of ticks in 2017. Researchers at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies have decades of field research to back up the relationship, and lag time, between mast years and Lyme disease risk.

Which brings us to the current frigid weather, and probably even more importantly, the ice under the snow, and how it will impact small mammals. Animals that have a harder time finding food are more likely to (in order of lessening consequences) die of starvation, succumb to other stresses such as disease or predation, fail to mate, give birth to fewer young, and give birth less often. In a nutshell, there should be fewer hosts come spring. And fewer hosts eventually lead to fewer ticks. Good so far.

But there is some bad news, too. During the time of high tick numbers and fewer small mammal hosts, each of us, and our companion animals, are at greater risk of coming into contact with questing ticks. So as soon as the temperatures rise into the mid-30s (and we know you will be out enjoying the veritable heat wave), ticks will be questing and we need to Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way.

I am afraid the search for a reason to fully embrace the cold continues.

November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:

A tick’s lifespan is

  • three months
  • ten months
  • twenty-four months (that is, about two years)

The best way to remove a tick is to

  • swab it with nail polish
  • hold a hot match to its behind
  • pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers

Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)

But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.

Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.

And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.

Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.

Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)

Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).

Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.

Our second  quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)

Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)

If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.

With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.

Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.

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

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