Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tick Country

The sixty-degree day under full sun brought out the blacklegged ticks. Yesterday I pushed my way through thick brush on one of my project sites - an overgrown gravel pit. By the time I finished walking the property, I had picked off two dozen ticks crawling on my carhartt pants. The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), once known as the "deer tick," is the one that transmits Lyme disease. Here are a few of the ticks that I found crawling up my leg.

(click on photos to enlarge -
in real life these ticks are the size of a sesame seed)

Note the four pairs of dark legs and oval or tear drop-shaped body. These are all females -- they have a two-tone reddish and black back. Males are dark brown and do not typically feed on a host.

The female ticks that I encountered overwintered and are now looking for a meal. Once they get a blood meal -- from a deer, a human, or other animal -- they drop off and lay thousands of eggs in the leaf litter. My goal was to ensure that I did not donate blood to their cause. I checked myself carefully after getting home and repeated the body check before bed. More than 50% of the blacklegged ticks in our area carry the bacteria that causes Lyme.  The tick must be embedded (i.e., feeding on my blood) for more than 24 hours to infect. So, I am very, very careful. And I don't worry when I walk in the woods.

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