Ticks Suck

May 3, 2018

Ticks Suck!

Last weekend I went out in the trees behind my house in search of morel mushrooms. Unfortunately I found more ticks than mushrooms! Ticks are close relatives of mites and spiders and pass through four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, nymph and adult. All stages except the egg are blood-sucking parasites that can also carry diseases.

Prompt removal of embedded ticks is important as the risk of disease transmission increases the longer ticks are attached and feeding. The best method to remove a feeding tick attached to an animal or human is to grasp it as close as possible to the skin with tweezers.

Gently, yet firmly apply steady pressure on the tick until you pull it out. If you try to jerk or twist the tick out, you risk the mouthparts breaking off and remaining in the skin where a hard nodule will form until your body naturally breaks it down. Always clean out the wound with a good antibacterial product to help prevent infection.

Do not grasp or squeeze the rear portion of the tick's body. This can force the gut contents of the tick into your tissues and increase the potential for disease transmission if the tick is infected with disease-causing organisms. The use of tape, alcohol, or Vaseline to cover the tick and cause it to voluntarily pull its mouthparts out of the skin is not effective.

Ticks usually crawl onto people below the knees and then crawl upwards. When you are outdoors in known tick areas, wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear light colored clothes so it is easier to see ticks on you. For added protection, tuck pants inside your socks. This helps keep them on the outside of your clothing, giving you more time to see and remove them before they get to your skin and start feeding.

Use repellents for additional protection. Apply them to socks, pant legs, and parts of clothing that may brush against vegetation. DEET and permethrin are effective repellents. You can apply DEET to clothing and skin, but permethrin should be applied only to clothing.

Check your clothes and yourself when you’ve been outdoors in known tick areas. Particularly examine yourself around the waist, under your arms, inner legs, behind your knees, and around your head, including in and around your ears and in your hair. Adults should check their young children for ticks.

Tick numbers around your home are influenced by the amount of favorable habitat found there such as brushy or tall grassy areas. You can reduce tick numbers through landscape modification that creates a less favorable environment for ticks and their animal hosts.

Keep native vegetation short around homes, where it borders lawns, along paths, and in areas where people may contact ticks. It is not necessary to treat your lawn for ticks because ticks rarely infest maintained yards. Remove leaf litter, weeds and brush, especially from buffer areas where the lawn borders grassy, weedy or brushy areas.

It is generally not effective to treat large areas of woods, brush, or grass with insecticides as insecticides do not always penetrate into areas where ticks are found in the leaf litter. Ticks can also be reintroduced into areas when wildlife carrying ticks move into a previously treated area.

In cases where high numbers of ticks are present in areas adjacent to home yards, treating the edges of wooded or brushy areas and paths can help reduce tick numbers. Use an insecticide labeled for a turf area and contains permethrin, cyfluthrin, or carbaryl as an active ingredient.

For more information on ticks and tick control, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.