Ticked Off in the Carp Hills

The Carp Hills seem to be a tick “hot spot” with many reports of an increase in ticks on people and pets, particularly in the last few years.   The ticks in the Hills are overwhelmingly Blacklegged Ticks, also called deer ticks, which are the ones that can carry Lyme disease. We want to make sure people are aware of the risk and knowledgeable about how to minimize being bitten while still enjoying the Carp Hills.

Preventative Measures – What to Wear

You want to prevent ticks from getting directly onto your skin and keep them on the outside of your clothes so that you can see them crawling and remove them. Ticks move upward, seeking dark moist areas. They prefer the groin, armpits, back of the neck and back of the ears, but frankly you can find them embedded anywhere (arms, stomach, knee, back, etc)

Ticks will generally attach at the pant leg, but can also attach at the butt, waist, and sleeve.

  1. Wear closed shoes and socks.
  2. Tuck your pant legs into your socks.
  3. Tuck your shirt, sweater, and your jacket (if you can) into your pants. If you can’t tuck in your jacket, they may crawl up your back under the jacket; you’ll need to check for this.
  4. Pull up long hair under a hat if possible.
  5. Wear light coloured clothes so you can see them on you.
  6. An area of vulnerability is the wrists; ticks can get on your hands and climb up inside your sleeve.
  7. DEET and Icaridin are supposed to repel them so you can spray your pant legs and wrist area, but this is not failsafe.
  8. If you have a knapsack, eliminate daggling straps and watch for ticks crawling up underneath it on your back.

In heavy tick season (spring and fall) if you’re on a trail with brush, check yourself front and back every 5 to 10 minutes. This is easier with a companion!

When you return from a tick area, have someone check the hard-to-see areas like your back and scalp, remove all your clothes and check them for lurking ticks, and shower.

Tick Talk

Most of this information is confirmed by knowledgeable sources, but some are our own observations and thus “anecdotal”.  We’ve had some information provided to us by Katie Clow, DVM and a PhD student at the University of Guelph whose research focuses on the ecology of Lyme disease in Ontario, specifically examining how ecological factors are influencing the establishment and spread of this vector-borne disease. Her words are shown in italics and quotes.

  1.  Blacklegged ticks have three life stages: larva, nymph, and adult – see the adjacent picture from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ticks are mostly black, flat, and a bit shiny. The adult females have a reddish-brown area on their bottom half.

tick_sizes

There is a seasonal pattern to blacklegged tick activity that coincides with their two year lifecycle. Adults typically peak in the spring and fall. Nymphs peak in early summer (June/July). The larvae peak in late August-early September. It takes a very trained eye to see the larvae (they are the size of a pin head) so it’s not surprising that you do not find any during those months.

 

  1. In the Carp Hills, there seems to be two main flushes of ticks: the spring and the fall. Our observations are that they come out around the third week of April and the last week of September, but the exact timing is probably weather dependent. The numbers remain high over the following two to three weeks, and then begin to decline as they find hosts. During the dry summer of 2015, very few ticks were encountered.
  1. Frost does not kill ticks. Cold weather causes them to move more slowly, but they can still move if the temperature is above 0 C. We’ve encountered ticks in November attaching at 4 C.

Frost does not kill them, and a thick snow covering makes it even better for their survival over winter. As the temperature gets cooler, their development slows and by late fall they are less active as most of them have successfully found a host and have gone back into the litter layer of the forest.

  1. Blacklegged ticks live in forested areas, but we’ve had them in dry fields with long grass and on the dry Carp Barrens, albeit in areas with more humidity.

Blacklegged ticks generally do not like grasslands. They are extremely sensitive to low humidity and will die if they are there for an extended duration of time (sometimes just hours). However, blacklegged ticks can be carried into new habitats by the hosts on which they feed (birds, small mammals, deer). Therefore, it is not unreasonable to find some in grassy areas surrounding a wooded habitat if they have been brought out on an animal. They will not be able to establish a population in grassy areas though because it is not conducive to survival.

  1. Ticks hang onto grass, brush, twigs, and posts and use their upper arms to seek out and attach to a host. Ticks do not jump as they have limited mobility. Some people think that they drop from trees, but this is highly unlikely, as they do not climb that high.

Ticks are generally attracted to the heat and carbon dioxide from the host . Humans and dogs therefore are at risk of ticks attaching.”

  1. Is there Lyme disease in the area? Unknown, so further research is needed. Numerous dog owners have confirmed that the disease’s antibodies have been measured in their dogs’ blood, which means the dogs have been exposed to it. We’ve provided some links to sites about Lyme disease below.

IMG_4221These are engorged ticks removed from a dog in the Carp Hills area. In the foreground is an engorged adult and to the right is an engorged nymph.

 

 

  1. Why do the Carp Hills have so many ticks? We don’t know for sure. However, the larval stage generally feeds on small rodents particularly mice.  Academic papers have noted a correlation between large acorn crops and an increased incidence of Lyme disease:

“The strongest predictors of a current year’s risk were the prior year’s abundance of mice and chipmunks and abundance of acorns two years previously.” **

Some have speculated that the large number of oak trees in the Hills, especially Red Oak, supports a healthy rodent population. The fall of 2014 was a particularly abundant acorn crop, which means we may have even more ticks in 2016.

If you have any Carp Hills tick encounters or information you’d like to share, please post on our Facebook page. People will be interested in locations where you found ticks and any information about behaviour you observed.

For more information about tick lifecycles and behavior and Lyme disease, here are some interesting web sites:

Ottawa Public Health

US Centers For Disease Control – Ticks

Minnesota Dept of Health – About Ticks

About Ticks

Ontario Ministry of Health on Lyme Disease

Lyme Ontario

Ontario Lyme Disease Risk Areas Map

The Clock Is Ticking: Spring Forward for Lyme Disease – Good information about the Blacklegged Tick’s life cycle.

** Richard S. Ostfeld, Charles D. Canham, Kelly Oggenfuss, Raymond J. Winchcombe, Felicia Keesing, Climate, Deer, Rodents, and Acorns as Determinants of Variation in Lyme-Disease Risk, 2006.