Avoiding tick bites

June 23, 2017, University of Connecticut
Avoiding tick bites
Ticks cannot fly or jump but they are particularly good at hitchhiking, using a behavior called 'questing.' . Credit: John Bailey/UConn Illustration

Following an unseasonably warm winter, the tick population is flourishing and these shiver-inducing, cringe-worthy arachnids are making themselves known.

To avoid the tiny creatures that are generating news headlines as the carrier of all sorts of diseases, you must have an understanding of ticks' likes and dislikes. The UConn Home and Garden Center offers a fact sheet about what makes ticks .

Thankfully, ticks are unable to fly or jump; but they are particularly good at hitchhiking, using a behavior called "questing." When questing, the tick clings to the tips of grass or other vegetation with its rear legs, and with its front limbs it will reach out awaiting a passerby and grab hold.

"The ticks are aiming for your head and neck," Sandra Bushmich, associate dean of agriculture, health, and natural resources. "Larval ticks will climb about an inch up, nymphs will quest about six inches up, and adults will climb about a foot up on the vegetation waiting for someone to brush by." After finding their host, they will climb up to find the perfect location for feeding.

Ticks usually feed on different hosts during their various life stages. Larvae often feed on ground-dwelling rodents, while the nymphs and adults search out larger animals including humans.

The hungry ticks literally "dig in" while feeding. They first grasp the skin, cut into it, and insert their feeding tube. It is often difficult to pull off a tick, since some species secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them well attached.

Bushmich also notes that ticks rely on cool, damp, and dark locations, where they hang out so that they don't dry out. As long as they have somewhere like this to stay, they can go without feeding for months or longer (depending on the species).

The stone walls of New England are not only beautiful, they are also ideal for providing these basic tick necessities. Fortunately for ticks, these habitats are also frequented by small rodents such as squirrels, chipmunks, or mice, who play the dual role of transporting them around and serving as a source of blood for them to feast on.

While the tick hitches a ride and starts chowing down, its host carries on with its life, scurrying about looking for food and making rodent babies. The tick will hang out here until it is full, when it will ditch its current host, molt, and then in its new stage of life search for a different host, whether it be another rodent, a deer, a dog, a human – you name it. There are few places these hitchhikers can't access.

Since rodents are key players in the tick life cycle, controlling their population is a vital step in reducing the tick population. Cute as they may be, these rodent hosts are typically where the young ticks – the nymphs – are first exposed to diseases such as Lyme, Powassan, or Anaplasmosis. Rodents are reservoirs where these pathogens may hang out waiting for a tick to suck them up and transmit them to a new host. According to the Home and Garden Center's field rodent fact sheet, populations of small mammals are effectively controlled with baited traps or by keeping cats around to help keep the numbers in check.

Landscape modification also provides a barrier to ticks and can be very effective at management of ticks, says Susan Pelton of the Home and Garden Center.

Dry wood mulch and crushed stone are both good. "Just no fresh mulch or leaf litter – keep that clear!" Pelton says. It's important to maintain clear paths and also provide a dry mulched perimeter around stone walls, plantings, and in areas close to the forest's edge. Keep wood piles away from the house, and avoid ground covers like pachysandra because they provide excellent cover for wandering rodents, she adds.

Some 82 percent of found in a yard will be around 9 feet from the edge of the nearest wooded area, according to the Home and Garden Center fact sheet.

Discouraging the presence of deer is another proven method to reduce tick numbers, Bushmich notes. "Deer are the host that is best for reproduction in the deer tick life cycle, and the deer population is out of control in this area."

Fences or repellents can be used, but also avoid planting deer-preferred plants such as hosta, ivy, or rhododendron, which act to invite deer onto your property. The Home and Garden Center offers a list of deer-resistant trees and shrubs.

If you have made the gruesome discovery of a feasting tick, remove it as quickly as possible. Since they may be 'cemented' in place, it's no wonder ticks can be tricky to remove. To effectively remove one, grasp it as close to your skin as you can while applying a steady, firm, upward force to pull the tick off without squeezing its abdomen, which can lead to regurgitation of its stomach contents into the .

Of course, it's better not to pick up hitchhikers in the first place.

Explore further: They're back! Numbers of ticks are high across New England

Related Stories

They're back! Numbers of ticks are high across New England

June 20, 2017
Tick numbers are on the rise across New England, raising the prospect of an increase in Lyme and other diseases associated with the blood suckers.

Don't let ticks get under your skin

April 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Just like people, ticks get more active as the weather gets warmer. So be sure to take steps to protect yourself against picking up an eight-legged hitchhiker when you're outdoors.

CDC scientists review methods to prevent bites and suppress ticks that transmit Lyme disease

July 20, 2016
Dr. Lars Eisen and Marc Dolan of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reviewed decades of scientific literature on the effectiveness of various methods of preventing bites and controlling ticks that transmit ...

Ticks abundant in New York and region despite cold winter

May 8, 2014
Paul Curtis, coordinator of Cornell University's Wildlife Damage Management Program and associate professor of Natural Resources, explains why tick populations are still high in New York and surrounding areas – and provides ...

Expert warns of new tick-borne disease

June 13, 2016
As spring awakens here in UConn country, so do the ticks. UConn veterinarian, researcher, and tick-borne disease expert Dr. Sandra Bushmich recently answered questions about ticks and the diseases they carry in this area, ...

Recommended for you

Infants born to obese mothers risk developing liver disease, obesity

November 16, 2018
Infant gut microbes altered by their mother's obesity can cause inflammation and other major changes within the baby, increasing the risk of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease later in life, according to researchers ...

New study shows NKT cell subsets play a large role in the advancement of NAFLD

November 16, 2018
Since 2015 it has been known that the gut microbiota could have a direct impact on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which affects up to 12% of adults and is a leading cause of chronic liver disease. In the November ...

Antibiotic prescribing influenced by team dynamics within hospitals

November 15, 2018
Antibiotic prescribing by doctors is influenced by team dynamics and cultures within hospitals.

Zika may hijack mother-fetus immunity route

November 14, 2018
To cross the placenta, Zika virus may hijack the route by which acquired immunity is transferred from mother to fetus, new research suggests.

New research aims to help improve uptake of hepatitis C testing

November 14, 2018
New research published in Scientific Reports shows persisting fears about HIV infection may impact testing uptake for the hepatitis C Virus (HCV).

Maternally acquired Zika immunity can increase dengue disease severity in mouse pups

November 14, 2018
To say that the immune system is complex is an understatement: an immune response protective in one context can turn deadly over time, as evidenced by numerous epidemiological studies on dengue infection, spanning multiple ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.