If we’re friends on Facebook (and if we’re not yet, why not?!), then you might be aware that I’ve been suffering from a small crisis called THE TICK MENACE.
It all started about a week ago…
And then it happened. When morning rolled around, the truth was evident – there was a tick FEASTING on my dog.
I love outdoors. I love growing things. I love nature. I love worms. I love getting my hands dirty and encouraging the gentle beauty that comes from helping a plant grow from wee seedling to food on my table. I have never been a big fan of insects, though some are cool. When we were kids, my older brother went to an etoymology camp. I thought it was super cool until I realized it was ETOymology and not ETymology. See, I’ve always been a word nerd. But there is one thing I have never been – and that is a bug nerd. Never ever have I ever wanted to study bugs. They’re creepy but I tolerate them, for the most part. With the exception of spiders. I do not like spiders. I recognize that they have value in the organic garden for eating more offensive pests, so I will endeavor to escort them out of doors when I find them, but I do not like them. I have been known to freak out when I see a spider, but with the addition of two young men to my family, I’ve worked on that and now can remain calm when I see one of the nasty little buggers. Isn’t motherhood awesome? But there is one bug for which I will never harbor any sentiment but pure, undisguised hatred:
I hate them so much, I can’t bear to show them in a good light. Or I have yet to find a decent picture of ticks, and I find this picture from the 1994 cartoon The Tick far more friendly to my eyeballs. I even liked that cartoon. But once again, I digress. Cousins to the spiders, ticks are by far my most hated insect. I revile them. I run screaming when I see one. You know the stereotype of the woman jumping on a chair when she sees a mouse? Yeah, that’s me with ticks. It’s weird, I know, but hey – that’s me. A mouse I can handle. Show me a tick, and you’ll have to scrape me off the ceiling. Once when I was a child, my mom found a tick in my hair and burned it in a candle because they’re just about impossible to kill with their freaky body shape, their ability to live through a myriad of difficult conditions (including surviving the harsh Northern winters), and their propensity to spread potentially diseased blood if they are squeezed about the body rather than just the head and mouthparts.
14 Reasons Ticks Are The Worst
- They are external parasites that feast on the blood of their host.
They can deposit 4,000-6,000 eggs AT A TIME.
They are downright freaky with their growth stages… For example, the American Dog Tick starts off as an egg, and develop into the 6-legged larval stage where they find a host and SUCK THEM DRY for 3-12 DAYS and molt into an EIGHT LEGGED nymph. They feed AGAIN and then molt into their adult stage.
- Some ticks can survive up to TWO YEARS between feedings.
- Ticks have few natural predators (but chickens in South Africa were found to consume about 10 ticks per hour, too bad they’re not allowed in my town). The most effective are fungi, threadworms, and possibly wasps. Gross.
- Ticks transmit some seriously nasty illnesses like Lyme Disease, Human Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. If you have symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle & joint aches (especially in the knees), headaches, and exhaustion and you live/work/play in a rural, suburban or peri-urban (what else is there?!) area, a tick-borne disease might be considered.
House Season 2 Episode 16 “Safe” in which a girl who lives in a clean room has a severe allergic reaction and goes into shock. Because of a tick. In a highly unexpected and UNCOOL area.
- The well-known “fact” that humans swallow an average of 8 spiders per year in their sleep. Though debunked by various sources like Scientific American and this detailed explanation on Snopes, it still freaks me out. And makes me think that I’m swallowing all kinds of things. Like ticks. (Note: this statistic was published in list of common misbeliefs published in 1954 and resurrected in a 1993 PC Professional article demonstrating how gullible people really are, especially when they read things on the Internet.)
They are difficult to remove from a person (or pet). Because of the diseases that ticks can transmit, it’s important to not come in contact with their blood. You can’t just squash these like mosquitoes. To remove from a host, you have to use tweezers (or pliers if you’re my husband) and grab their anterior section that includes their head and mouthparts and NOT the body which is filled with blood, tick goo, who knows what disgusting diseases, and if squished can cause the tick to spit up the nasty bits into the host. It’s important to NOT use the old wives’ tales of removal that encourage the tick to back out – these are also known to encourage the tick to throw up in it’s mouth – and since that mouth is embedded in a living, breathing blood donor… yeah, not good.
- Once you’ve removed the tick from a living host, they are also notoriously difficult to kill. You have to be careful not to squish them (again) because you don’t want the chance on contacting any contaminated blood they may or may not have sucked. You also want to make sure they’re actually dead because they’re one of those super awesome bugs that lives through darn near anything. Some suggest burning them or piercing their head part, but others suggest drowning them in alcohol. I can tell you from my experience this week, they do not always die this way. I put ticks in isopropyl alcohol AND THEY LIVED. According to the Tick Encounter website, their best plan for ticks is to tape them securely to an index card. They’ll die of desiccation and you still have the tick in case you see symptoms of an illness and need to identify it. My only issue with this is that brown deer tick adults can live 18 months without meals and larva can live 8 months without bloodmeals.
- According to Purdue University Medical Entomology, there are an estimated 899 species of tick in the world with 90 occurring in the United States and 15 of them right here in Indiana.
- They have a sensory organ called the Haller’s Organ on their LEGS. In a study done in 1992, some scientists amputated legs from ticks, allowed them to feed and molt, and THE LEGS REGENERATED. The Haller’s Organ was different, but hello – they can regenerate their legs. ICK
Ticks do not jump, hop, leap, or anything remotely acrobatic like that – in fact, adult ticks rarely walk more than a few meters horizontally. Ticks are anywhere from on the ground to about knee-high depending on the species. They’re not jumping out of trees, they’re climbing UP YOUR ENTIRE BODY to feast on your head like the little zombie bugs they are – most animals have a hard time grooming their heads what with the eyeballs not being able to see there.
- Ticks aren’t ninjas and they’re not planning secret missions to get you – they stand around with their arms up to the sky and wait for their prey to WALK RIGHT INTO THEM. They wave around their little Haller’s Organs on their legs, catching scents like carbon dioxide to know that there is a living, breathing, blood containing THING for them to make a meal of right there. This type of hunting behavior is called questing and this article on RadioLab has an excellent description: “Are they like eight-legged little warriors, marching brave and strong, daring to explore uncharted territory, ready to leap out at warm-blooded prey? Nope. Their brilliant solution is to STOP MOVING. Ticks literally stand there and wait for you (or a nice warm deer, or a dog, or one of those little ice cream trucks full of blood called a “mouse”) to come to them.”
Now that you’ve probably left the remnants of whatever food you’ve recently consumed on your keyboard (or your lap if you’re on a phone or tablet), I’ll bid you adieu. The very next day, after removing the tick from my dog (I didn’t do it, my husband did), there was ANOTHER tick on my patio – a dead one that had recently had a bloodmeal. After that, we started seeing them EVERYWHERE. I even had one in my hair. Rather than shave my head and run screaming down the street naked, I went to the farm store and loaded up on the essential tick killing supplies. This organic non-toxic blogger even purchased NASTY chemicals. My children had a fit running screaming around the house that I was going to buy CHEMICALS. Ah, aren’t children wonderful? So tomorrow I will give you an update to see what I bought, what worked, and how toxic it is – or isn’t… For now I’ll leave you with that cliffhanger a la Scandal – did she or did she not succumb to the lure of toxic chemicals to kill her mortal enemy?!