Editor’s Note: ‘Along the Trail’ is a weekly column written by David Hewitt of Switzerland County; and covers all things dealing with the outdoors, from hunting and fishing to woodsmanship.
Ticks, ticks and more ticks…
This year has been particularly a bad one as far as the little blood suckers go. If you’re outdoors at all, you’ll likely run into the nasty, little bugs. There’s been lots of theories as to why ticks are so prevalent over the last couple of years. My un-educated guess is that the mild winter has something to do with the “up-tick” in ticks.
The warmer winter and a bumper mast crop from last autumn made life easier for mice and other small rodents, like squirrels, chipmunks and rats. All of the aforementioned play host to the parasite ticks in their early stage of life or nymph cycle. A lot of fellow hunters like myself refer to these tiny ticks as “turkey ticks” because we commonly see them during the spring turkey season, either on ourselves or on the turkeys if we’re lucky enough to bag one.
The term turkey tick is just a nickname and the actual ticks around here are black legged ticks. The more common name for them is deer tick. During this early nymph stage, the ticks are small, anywhere from the size of the period at the end of this sentence to the size of the tip of a pencil lead.
Once the ticks feed on their host’s blood for a bit, they fall back to the ground and remain dormant for a while, molt their outer shell and then transform into the adult version of the horrible little creatures they are. There are several bugs that I often question their existence and ticks rank near the top of the list!
Anyway, at this stage of their life, typically in mid to late summer, the adult ticks are hungry and looking for more blood to satisfy their needs. They latch onto nearly any warm blooded critter. A deer, raccoon, your dog Bingo or fluffy cat or even you. Ticks don’t discriminate in their blood sucking and if you’re outdoors where the ticks live, you’ll due just as well as your dog. After they are well fed and fat, the ticks will mate, the male dies and the female lives on through the fall and winter, laying her eggs and completing the cycle again for the following year.
So, if you’re an outdoor lover or if your kids just like to play in the backyard, what can you do to avoid tick bites? The simple answer is to stay indoors, but you know me and that’s not a reasonable answer. The best thing to do if you’re in high grass, weeds or in the edge of the woods is to periodically check yourself for ticks. Check your pant legs and sleeves. If possible, tuck your pants into your socks or boots.
A good commercial insect repellent specifically for ticks is also a good idea. Spray around your ankles to help discourage the little buggers from climbing aboard. Wearing long sleeves is also a good idea if your going to be in tick habitat. Some folks go so far as to wear gloves and tuck their sleeves into them, but lets face it, when its a hot, sticky, July day, who wants to wear long sleeves, gloves, boots and jeans? The bottom line is, if you spend time outside, you’ll probably get bit by a tick and 99.9-percent of the time, you will be fine.
If you are bitten by one, here’s what to do:
Use a pair of tweezers to remove the tick. Don’t yank, but use slow even pressure so as not to rip its head off or leave parts of it’s mouth embedded in your skin. Use some rubbing alcohol and clean up the area of the bite. If any parts of the tick are left behind, just let your skin heal as normal and you should be okay.
If after you remove the tick and you notice a bullseye type rash, a mild fever or joint stiffness and headache, you will need to see your doctor. Usually a little time and a round of antibiotics will have you back to good as new, but ticks and the germs they have can carry some serious illnesses. Lyme disease is the most well known of tick-borne sickness, but they can have a host of other and even nastier diseases that can be transmitted to you or your pets.
The U.S. government estimates that there are around 300,000 cases of Lyme disease each year and most go unreported or undiagnosed.
If you enjoy spending time outdoors, hiking, hunting, fishing or camping, ticks and their ilk are a reality of the natural world. With a little preparation and a dose of common sense, we can all get along with the little blood suckers, although I still haven’t figured out what purpose they serve.
– David Hewitt