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According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA)’s 2018 “bug barometer”, the Midwest will have to contend with higher-than-average tick populations this year. Moisture blown up from La Niña will create warm, wet conditions perfect for fostering early tick growth this spring. In fact, in many parts of the midwest, ticks are already awake and active. Tick season has already begun, and it’s a big one. Knowing where ticks are, what they want, and how to protect yourself is already important. Remember: no matter how severe the season, a little anti-tick diligence is all it takes to force them to find their meals elsewhere. Here’s everything you need to know to make that happen.  

What are ticks?

Ticks are arachnids like spiders, mites, and scorpions. All species of tick have four pairs of legs and no antennae. Ticks are classified as either “hard” or “soft”, depending on appearance. Hard ticks have a hard shell-like outer covering on their torsos called a “scutellum”. They’re small, flat, and resemble seeds. Soft ticks do not have a scutellum, and therefore look “soft” compared to hard ticks. They’re pear or oval-shaped, round, and resemble raisins.

What are the common ticks in the Midwest?

common ticks in the midwestThere are four common species of tick to watch out for in the midwest: American dog ticks, Deer ticks, Lone star ticks, and Brown dog ticks. Each of these species are hard ticks. They’re small, dark brown or red-brown, and have segmented legs about as long as their torsos.. Brown dog ticks primarily feed on dogs and rarely bite humans, but the other common species don’t discriminate.   

Why do they bite?

Ticks are ectoparasites, which means live on the skin of the host they feed on. They require constant blood meals to survive and grow. Ticks can survive for extended periods of time without a blood meal, but they cannot grow and eventually starve.

Why do they attach to people?

In order to consume enough food to sustain themselves, ticks have to feed for extended periods of time. Depending on their species and life cycle, some ticks may feed for up to 7-10 days. To keep feeding for that long without being interrupted or shaken off, they need to attach to their host. Ticks (infamously) accomplish by using a harpoon-like mouthpart called a hypostome. The hypostome helps the tick remain feeding without coming unattached, no matter how much their host moves.

How do they hunt?

how ticks huntTicks find prospective hosts by using specialized sensory structures call “Haller’s Organs”, located on their front legs. Haller’s organs allow ticks to detect carbon dioxide from breath and sweat, along with body heat. Hard ticks use these Haller’s organs to hunt, or “quest”. When questing, ticks climb to the top of low-to-mid length vegetation and extend their front legs to sense the surrounding area. When a host moves close enough to their perch, the tick simply reaches out and grabs onto them. Ticks don’t “leap” or “dive” onto hosts; they require near-direct contact with their host to grab onto them.

When are they active?

Unlike many pests, ticks aren’t killed by frost. In fact, adult stage deer ticks generally only become active after the season’s first frost. Other ticks enter the hibernation-like diapause state during winter, but they’ll wake up as soon as temperatures rise about freezing. Ticks begin questing and reproducing as soon as they can get around on non-frozen or snow-covered ground. Their active season may continue from early spring all the way until late fall. Ticks tend to be most active during warm, dry spring and summer days, when they can easily access questing perches.

Are they dangerous?

are ticks dangerous?They can be. Ticks are a confirmed transmitter of several different diseases. The only way humans get lyme disease is via contact with a deer tick or related species. The other common Midwestern ticks can’t transmit Lyme disease, but they can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tularemia, and other potentially severe diseases. It generally takes 24 hours or more for an attached tick to transmit a disease to their host. If you can find and remove an attached tick quickly, you could prevent the transmission of disease. After removing a tick, save its body for your doctor to reference in case symptoms develop.

How can I avoid being bitten?

Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs whenever you spend time in an area where ticks could be questing. Most bites occur on ankles, knees, armpits, scalp, or ears. Wearing socks, long sleeves, and a hat goes a long way toward preventing them. You should also apply tick repellant thoroughly before going out. After returning from your outing, check your body and clothing for ticks. Comb through your hair and check folds such as the armpits especially closely. Make sure you check your pets for ticks every time they go outside during tick season. If you suspect a tick is on your clothing, wash and dry the articles of clothing at high heat seatings.   Ticks are nothing to be afraid of, but they are something to be aware of. The more you do to prevent tick problems from happening, the less you’ll have to worry about them in the long run. If you ever need some help keeping ticks from questing on your property, give Plunkett’s a call anytime. We’ll make sure those bloodsuckers don’t suck the fun out of your spring or summer.

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