Tick Talk: Talking Ticks & How to Stay Protected

All, From the Field

The ability to de-stress in the outdoors has always been one of my most cherished pleasures that seems to be shared with all park guests I encounter. Whether they are avid hikers, mountain bikers, fishers, sports enthusiasts or playground players, we all share a passion to get outside and allow mother nature  to take us far away from our everyday lives. However, as many of you know, mother nature is not without her blemishes. No matter where you find yourself in one of our 21 parks and preserves there is always a risk to pick up a tiny, blood-thirsty hitchhiker. 

I am of course referring to our favorite arachnid, the tick. As if spiders weren’t frightening enough, this cousin of the spider maybe even more intimidating. They secretly latch onto their host, crawling until they find the perfect place to sink their mouthparts. From there, they can feed from days to weeks at a time without their host ever being the wiser. The thought of a tick latching on and sucking your blood certainly would make even the most hardened outdoorsman curl their toes. Two things that two decades of experience in the outdoors have taught this nature interpreter are that 1) With the right knowledge and prevention techniques, you can still enjoy the outdoors without these little travelers canceling your plans and, 2) Ticks still kind of creep me out. … 

Ticks will go through several life stages before they reach mature adulthood. Ticks begin life as eggs which then hatch into larvae. From there the larva becomes a nymph and the nymph becomes an adult. With the exception of the hatching larva, ticks need a blood meal before they can transition into the next phase of life. Out of the stages, nymphs and adult females are the most likely to attach to a human host.

Types of Tick in Ohio

Although there are more than a dozen species of tick that have been identified in Ohio, there are three species that we commonly run into when we explore the outdoors (Ohio Department of Health). These species are as follows:

Figure 1: Stages of blacklegged tick life cycle from left to right:
unfed larva, unfed nymph, fed nymph, adult male, adult female,
partially fed female, fully fed adult female. Photo enlarged to show detail.

Blacklegged Tick or Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis):

The blacklegged tick, or deer tick as it is also known, has seen its overall numbers grow significantly around the state in the last decade. A primary resident of forested areas, this tick sports a large set of mouthparts and a light brown complexion. They traditionally have no bite site preferences and will dig into the first area of exposed skin that they find when feeding (OSU Extension). 
(Photo used with permission from Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in Iowa, Iowa State University Extension)

Figure 2: Stages of American dog tick life cycle from left to right: adult male, adult female, fully fed adult female (not pictured: larva, nymph). Photo enlarged to show detail.

American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

The American dog tick is the tick that comes to my mind whenever I think of ticks. They are larger than their blacklegged cousins, so are typically easier to spot. They prefer tall grassy areas, especially those that back up to forested areas. These ticks prefer to feed near the hairline or in crevices on the body (OSU Extension). 
(Photo used with permission from Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in Iowa, Iowa State University Extension)

Figure 3: Stages of lone star tick life cycle from left to right: unfed nymph, fed nymph, adult male, adult female, fully fed adult female (not pictured: larva). Photo enlarged to show detail.

Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)

One of the more distinctive species of tick, the lone star tick gets its namesake from the white dot on the back of the female. Much like the American dog ticks, they prefer grassy areas but need a fair bit more shade. They spend much of their time on low-lying vegetation so they are likely to be found toward the lower half of your body (OSU Extension). 
(Photo used with permission from Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in Iowa, Iowa State University Extension)

Tick-Related Illnesses 

Although tick-related illnesses shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the outdoors, they are things that you should be aware of. As time moves on this becomes even more necessary since tick-related illnesses have been on the rise over the past few decades (CDC). Some of the more common tick-related illnesses include:

  • Lyme disease (primarily transmitted through blacklegged ticks), 
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever (primarily transmitted through American dog ticks), 
  • Southern tick-associated rash illness or STARI (primarily transmitted through lone star ticks),
  • Tularemia (transmitted by American dog and lone star ticks), and
  • Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (transmitted through blacklegged tick nymphs) (OSU Extension). 

Although there are a large variety of diseases that can be passed on by ticks, there are a few symptoms that are common across the board (Ohio Department of Health). These symptoms include fever/chills, aches/pains and distinctive rashes. If you are aware that you were bitten by a tick, and begin to develop any of these symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible. The Ohio Department of Health continues to say, “ …early recognition and treatment of the infection decrease the risk of serious complications.” Despite the fact that early detection and antibiotics can traditionally make quick work of a tick-related illness, it is always best to take steps to avoid the bite in the first place. 

Tick Tips for Staying Protected

It may surprise some of you that the annual tick season that sits on your calendars every spring actually isn’t quite accurate. Although there is a peak season around late spring for most nymphs and midsummer- late fall for the adults, ticks can be active year-round in some stage of their life or another. The only true natural deterrent for these tiny tagalongs is temperature. Ticks will go dormant when the temperature dips below freezing. Unless you only plan to go outside during the coldest winter days, it is best to take some simple preventative measures when going outdoors. 

Clothing:

  • Long sleeves help limit the amount of skin ticks are able to attach to.
  • Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot any tick that may have hopped on.
  • Something to cover your head, like a hat or bandanna, will help deter the ticks from attaching in our hair where it is more difficult to spot them.
  •  Tucking pants into long socks can help eliminate a gap for ticks to crawl up.
  • Treating clothing with commercial tick repellent such as permethrin can help keep the ticks off.

When you get home:

  • Remove all clothing and place directly into a dryer if possible. The heat from the dryer will kill any ticks left on clothing.
  • Complete a tick check of the entire body making sure to focus crevices, like behind the knees and under armpits and in the hair. Ask for assistance from a family member or friend if possible.

If you find a tick:

  • If the tick has not attached itself, the Ohio Department of Health recommends “putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.”
  • If the tick has attached itself, remove the tick by clasping around the tick as close to the skin as possible with a pair of tweezers and pulling directly upwards. Dispose of in the same methods listed above.
  • Traditional home remedies, such as pouring alcohol on the stuck tick or placing a flame behind the tick, can cause the tick to regurgitate harmful saliva and should never be used. 

Protecting your pets:

  • Talk to your pet’s veterinarian about preventive measures to protect your pet.
  • Keep your pets on a leash when taking them out for a walk and prevent them from running through tall grasses.
  • Do a tick check when you get home just as you would do for yourself. Ticks can often be found along the back, behind the ears and in between paws.

Works Cited:


Will Buelsing
Nature Interpreter, Miami Whitewater Forest

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