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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

Ticks suck! (AKA: Get a taste of these hosts!)

I seem to be doing quite a bit of tick work lately and there is some great research on ticks. We need research to help determine the most effective products, the best protocols, and integrated management approaches. However, ticks are complicated. They have a lifecycle that spans multiple years and they need multiple hosts to complete their development. They aren’t like a nice simple mosquito that will develop in a month and you can get multiple generations a year.

So what’s a researcher to do with limited hours, funds, and student help? Turn to the people of course! Citizen science projects have their drawbacks, but they are a great way to gather a lot of information from lots of different people and different areas. A recent study out of Maine had some interesting results and implications.

Adult ticks were abundant early in the season. This makes sense since they overwinter as adults and come out in the spring to lay eggs. Nymph populations were reduced compared to previous years. This was likely due to weather and we know that both weather and climate change have an effect on tick populations.

What this means: tick treatments are going to be most effective early in the spring when adults are first emerging, and likely mid to late summer for nymphs.

Of the blacklegged ticks collected, over 25% were carrying the pathogen that causes Lyme disease in humans. An additional 12% were found to have either the pathogen that causes anaplasmosis or babesiosis. Other studies have shown rates of infection at 33% (Pennsylvania), over 45% (New York), and as high as 40% (California).

What this means: Just because you have a tick doesn’t mean it is infected and doesn’t mean it will pass the infection. With infection rates that high, it is better to take precautions. Customers need to know that a treatment isn’t a guarantee. They need to take personal precautions and so do those performing the treatments.

white-footed mouse
White-footed mouse

Landscape matters. I will admit, this one took me by surprise: properties with timber harvests in the past 20 years saw significantly fewer tick numbers. Since ticks like that “in-between” zone, that zone where clean landscaping meets more natural, wild areas, I would expect that timber harvest would create more of that zone. However, that was not the case. One reason for this might be the disturbance of host animals. With timber harvesting, the mice, deer, and other host animals may have moved to more “safe” areas, and with them went the ticks.

What does this mean: treatment for ticks needs to be targeted to areas where ticks are likely to be. Tick management also has to look at the host animals.

It’s not just the trees, it the bushes too. Those with more invasive plants, particularly Japanese barberry and bush honeysuckle had more ticks. Ticks may be using these as suitable habitats to quest from and as protected areas to overwinter. It could be that more rodents like to inhabit these areas providing a ready host animal for the ticks to feed on. In Connecticut, it was found that the Japanese barberry produced a more humid microclimate that the ticks did better in.

What this means: There is so much to be aware of when looking at tick treatments. It’s not just the tick, it’s the habitat, the hosts, the landscaping, and even the history of the site.

While Lyme disease gets the majority of the press, there are multiple other pathogens that ticks carry that can impact people. Not to mention pets and livestock too!

If you are interested in participating in citizen science projects in your area, click here.

If you are interested in improving your service and retaining more customers, click here!

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