“Look out for Ticks this Summer!”

— Written By and last updated by

As an Extension Agent, we often make farm visits to assist with issues on farms, many times with new farm ownership. One recent farm visit turned out to be a “tick fest”… on all the animals as well as humans. As a result, our conversation quickly turned to pest control of ticks.

From the larval to the adult stages, ticks attach to a living host and feed on the host’s blood. In doing so, they may transmit germs that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease, both of which can have serious consequences for humans. The N.C. Cooperative Extension has an excellent publication on tick control (www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Urban/ticks.htm) and here is some information from that article.

Biological Characteristics of Ticks

Ticks are related to mites and spiders. They have four stages of development — the egg, larval, nymph, and adult stages. After hatching from the egg, the tick must take a blood meal to complete each stage in its life cycle. Each stage of the tick usually takes a blood meal from a different host. For most ticks, each blood meal is taken from a different type of host.

Ticks are usually active in the spring, summer, and fall; however, the adults of some species are active in the winter. When seeking a blood meal, ticks move from leaf litter, from a crack or crevice along a building foundation, or from another secluded place to grass or shrubs where they attach themselves to an animal as it passes. If a host is not found by fall, most species of ticks move into sheltered sites where they become inactive until spring. Once it is on a host, a tick crawls upward in search of a place on the skin where it can attach to take a blood meal. The tick’s mouth parts are barbed, making it difficult to remove the tick from the skin. In addition, the tick manufactures a glue to hold the mouthparts in place. The female mates while attached to a host and usually feeds for 8 to 12 days until it is full. By the time it finishes feeding, the female may increase in weight by 100 times. A male tick may attach, but it does not feed as long as the female. The male tick may mate several times before dying. The female, after mating and feeding, drops to the ground where it lays a mass of eggs in a secluded place such as in a crevice or under leaf litter. Shortly after laying an egg mass, which may contain thousands of eggs, the female dies. The eggs hatch in about two weeks, and the life cycle begins again. Depending upon the species of tick, the life cycle may take as little as a few months or as much as two years.

There are several types of ticks: American Dog Tick, Brown Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, and   the Black-Legged Tick.

How to Protect Yourself from Ticks

  • To avoid ticks that maybe on grass and shrubs, stay on wide paths and roads when possible.
    When practical, layer your clothing. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirttail into your pants. Wearing light-colored clothing makes ticks easier to see.
  • Most commercial insect repellents are effective against ticks. Liberally apply one of these to exposed areas of your body and to your clothing. When camping, try to select an area that is not heavily infested with ticks. You can check for ticks by dragging a piece of white flannel cloth or clothing over the grass and shrubs and then examining it for ticks.
  • When you have been in a tick-infested area, examine your clothing and body at least twice each day. Frequent self-inspection lessens the chance of a tick having enough time to attach. A tick must be attached at least six hours in order to transmit disease organisms causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever; therefore, the longer a tick is attached, the greater the chances are that germs will be transmitted. The minimum attachment time required for transmission of Lyme disease spirochetes is not yet known.

Procedure for Removing Ticks

  1. The risk of infection with tick-transmitted disease organisms can be greatly reduced by inspecting yourself frequently for ticks and promptly removing any that have attached. Applying petroleum jelly or cleaning fluid or holding a burning cigarette near an attached tick will not cause it to dislodge. Such “home remedies” irritate the skin and kill the tick, making it difficult to remove intact. Here is the best way to remove an attached tick:
  2. Shield your fingers with a piece of folded tissue paper or use tweezers. Disease organisms carried by an engorged tick may penetrate even microscopic breaks in the skin. Grasp the body of the attached tick firmly and, without twisting or jerking, pull directly away from the point of attachment, increasing the
    force gradually until the tick is pulled free.
  3. If the tick’s mouth parts break off in the skin, use a sterilized needle to remove them as you would a splinter.
  4. Wash the bite area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic such as alcohol.
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after removing the tick.
  6. Mark the date of the tick bite on a calendar. If symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Lyme disease develop, you will be able to tell your physician when you were bitten.
  7. Save the tick by preserving it in rubbing alcohol. If you cannot identify it using the pictures in the above publication, take it to your county Cooperative Extension Center.

Ticks and Pets

Pets may transport ticks into the family living area, so inspect them frequently for ticks. Remove attached ticks from pets using the same procedures described for people. Control ticks on pets using flea-tick collars and powder or liquid formulations of pesticides. In addition, several safe and effective pesticides can control ticks in pet quarters. Contact us at the Cooperative Extension for advice on pesticides or you can check the NC Agricultural Chemicals Manual .

Controlling Ticks on Home Grounds and in Public-Use Areas

  • Weeds and grass around homes and in public-use areas should be kept mowed to discourage rodent hosts of ticks from becoming established.
  • Reduce exposure to ticks by removing the leaf litter layer around picnic tables, in campsites, and along hiking trails.
  • Severe tick infestations can be controlled effectively with pesticides. Uniform application is critical to achieving adequate control. If a liquid formulation is used, the ground cover in tick-infested areas should be wetted thoroughly to the soil surface. Apply granular pesticides just before rainfall or else water the granules thoroughly to assure that the pesticide is released. Keep children and pets out of treated areas until the chemical has dried.
  • The use of free-range poultry, such as guineas, has worked well for many farm owners and is a favorite for those who don’t wish to use chemical control.

For more information on summer pests, give us a call at the Cooperative Extension Center, 919-496-3344.

by: Martha L. Mobley

Agricultural Extension Agent