I have received reports of ticks showing up in large numbers this week. Reports range from 15 to 20 ticks on a single dog to several found crawling on people after taking a walk around the property.
Most of these ticks have been the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the most common tick in Indiana. There are 10 to 15 species of ticks in Indiana. This tick can be identified easily by the light and dark brown color patterns on its body.
Ticks possess harpoon-like barbs along their mouths that are backed up with eight crablike legs along their one-piece, oval bodies. These physical features help to hold them to the host they feed upon.
The American dog tick has a complicated life cycle. Specifically, each development stage feeds on a different host. As soon as the eggs hatch, usually in the early spring, the small six-legged larvae attach and feed on small mammals, such as the white-footed mouse and the meadow vole. After less than a week, they dislodge from their host, shed their skin, and begin to develop another pair of legs. The second host is another small rodent, which will give the tick enough nourishment to grow to adult size. The adult ticks mate and then feed on larger mammals, including dogs and humans. Adults are most abundant from mid-April to mid-July. Female ticks are known to lay a lot of eggs.
American dog ticks prefer overgrown vacant lots, waste farm fields, hiking trails, and other habitats with tall grass and weeds. They wait on these plants for a suitable host to brush against them. At that point they use their barbs and claws to latch on. Once on a suitable host, they crawl upward and take a blood meal.
The best way to prevent outdoor tick exposure is to wear protective clothing and repellents. When possible, stay on established trail, and avoid brushing against vegetation. Wear light-colored clothing, long pants and long-sleeved shirts so ticks can be more easily seen. Tuck in your shirt, and pull your socks over the pant cuffs.
Insect repellent can be applied to your shoes, socks and pants. Effective tick repellents are those containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or permethrin. Occasionally check yourself and your children for ticks, especially on the head, groin and underarm area. Showering after coming indoors may help remove ticks that have not yet attached to the skin. Inspect pets after they have been outdoors and remove any ticks.
Ticks are known vectors of diseases and should be removed promptly from humans and pets. If a tick is found attached on your skin, use the following procedure:
1. Use blunt forceps or tweezers.
2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with a steady, even pressure.
3. Take care not to squeeze, crush or puncture the tick.
4. Do not handle the tick with bare hands because infectious agents may enter via mucous membranes or breaks in the skin.
5. After removing the tick, disinfect the bite site and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
6. Consult a physician immediately if a rash or flu-like symptoms develop.
Outdoor control is aimed primarily at the American dog tick, lone star tick and deer tick. Keep overgrown and heavy vegetation cleared and cut in tick-infested areas. Eliminate unnecessary vegetation around yards or property, along wood edges or along the edges of trails and paths. Residual insecticides such as malathion and stirofos (Rabon®) can be applied on infested areas such as along roads, walks and trails where ticks congregate. Also, treatment can be made near ground level on grass and under shrubbery and trees, and along edges of wooded areas. Follow all label directions and precautions carefully before using any of these insecticides. When using spray formulations, keep children and pets off treated areas until dry.
Some residual insecticides are available for use by professional pest control applicators only. They include bendiocarb (Ficam-W®), dioxathion (Deltic®), cyfluthrin (Tempo®), deltamethrin (Suspend®), and lambda-cyhalothrin (Demand®).
For more information about ticks, check out Purdue Extension’s tick publication at http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-71.pdf.
Jeff Burbrink is an Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources. Write to him at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; or fax 533-0254.