Spring is a season I look forward to. It brings green grass, flowers, leaves on the trees, and lots of outdoor time. And unfortunately, ticks are also part of spring. Because of mild winter temperatures and another wet spring, ticks may again be abundant in some locations. Tick populations vary greatly from place to place and year to year. Ticks are most active from March to September with peak activity in April, May, and June. Ticks live and crawl on low-lying vegetation and attach to small mammals, pets, or people as they pass by. Ticks crawl upward to find a place to bite.
There are more than a dozen different tick varieties throughout our area; however, there are three main types usually encountered: the American dog tick, the lone star tick, and the blacklegged tick.
The American Dog Tick is also known as the wood tick. These ticks are found predominantly in grassy fields as well as along walkways and trails. They feed on a variety of warm blooded animals. Without a host, they may survive up to two years but need a host to move to the next stage of their development. They can transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever; however, this disease is not common in Iowa, Minnesota, or South Dakota.
The Lone Star Tick is abundant in the south central and southeastern US and in recent years has become common in Iowa as well. It is recognized by the white dot on the back of the adult female. The adult feeds on large mammals while the immature ticks prefer birds and small mammals. These ticks are usually found in bushy and grassy areas and can transmit the bacteria of several diseases but not Lyme Disease.
The Blacklegged Tick is also known as the deer tick or bear tick and is the known carrier of Lyme Disease. This tick takes two years to complete its life cycle and is found predominately in woody, brushy areas. Both the nymph (about the size of a poppy seed) and adult (1/8” or smaller) stages are capable of transmitting Lyme Disease.
If you are unsure about a tick, you can submit it for identification to the Iowa State University Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic. Please click here for submitting information. ISU does not test ticks for pathogens. According to the CDC, testing ticks for pathogen presence is not useful. (https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/)
After being outdoors, make it a routine to check clothing and your body. A good tip is to disrobe in a dry bathtub where ticks that might fall off and can be easily seen and disposed of. If a tick has attached, it is important to remove it quickly and correctly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend this method:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers. (Folk remedies such as burning or coating with polish, detergent or petroleum jelly are of no benefit and my promote transmission of pathogens.)
Clothing should be laundered in as warm of water as possible.
For more information on ticks, check out these resources:
Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in Iowa by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Tick-Borne Diseases by Iowa Department of Public Health Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology
Ticks and Their Control by University of Minnesota Extension
Tick-Borne Diseases in Minnesota by University of Minnesota Extension
Ticks in South Dakota by SDSU Extension
This blog was prepared with the help of Dr. Donald R Lewis, Professor and Extension Entomologist, Iowa State University Department of Entomology.
Tick images are courtesy of and with permission of John Van Dyk, Iowa State University Department of Entomology. http://www.ent.iastate.edu/
A dime is included in the photos to give perspective of size.