It’s tick season, and those little buggers are everywhere — along with every other insect known to man, it seems.
What makes ticks different? For one thing, they can be dangerous to you and your pets. Ticks carry a variety of diseases that they transmit to their hosts when they bite. Some of these diseases can be extremely debilitating.
Ticks are also pretty gross. They are true parasites and — make no mistake — they’re actively hunting you and your pets. And ticks can hide in some pretty unusual places, either outdoors or on you or your pet.
Ticks are found in most parts of the United States. Some are specific to their environment — such as the Dermacentor andersoni, or Rocky Mountain wood tick. Others, like the brown dog tick, can be found everywhere.
Diseases that ticks transmit include but are not limited to:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Symptoms can be mild and easily treated at home or severe and require hospitalization. If you remove a tick from you or your pet, and a few days later you notice a fever, behavioral changes, rashes or other flu-like symptoms, call the doctor or vet.
Ticks are smart enough to recognize their hosts. “Ticks find their hosts by detecting animals’ breath and body odors, or by sensing body heat, moisture and vibrations. Some species can even recognize a shadow. In addition, ticks pick a place to wait by identifying well-used paths. Then they wait for a host, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs. Ticks can’t fly or jump, but many tick species wait in a position known as ‘questing,’” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Where Ticks Hide Outdoors
Ticks hide in several outdoor places. Almost anyone who lives in a semi-rural to rural environment knows that ticks hang out in wooded areas and tall grass. But there are more places to consider:
- Leaf piles: Those tempting piles of leaves may contain ticks — so don’t go jumping into them.
- Wildlife: Many species of animal can host ticks, such as mammals, reptiles, birds and even amphibians. Those cute little bunnies in your yard seem more sinister now, I’d bet.
- Stone walls: Ticks thrive on the moisture usually present in a stone wall, as well as on the rodents that tunnel through the gaps.
- Outdoor feeding stations: If you feed and/or water your pet outdoors, ticks will likely take up residence.
- Ground-cover plants: Plants like ivy and myrtle provide a haven for mice and rats, so ticks will hang out here as well.
- Picnic tables and wooden benches: Nowhere is safe, I’m afraid. Rodents will likely seek out food remnants, bringing ticks along for the ride.
- Lawns: Is your lawn getting a little shaggy? Ticks will hide in neglected lawns — the longer the grass, the more likely that ticks will be there.
You can’t not go outside, but you can do regular tick checks on yourself and your pets to ensure that any tick that jumps on you doesn’t have a chance to latch on.
Where Ticks Hide on You
Ticks are very attracted to humans.
Sara Chodosh of Popular Science has the best explanation I’ve seen yet: “With every exhalation, you release carbon dioxide into the air — and, boy, does that sweet CO2 get ticks going. Some of them will literally run towards the scent of a potential host. And yeah, ticks can’t run very fast on a human scale, but the mental image of a little arthropod racing towards you on its clicking-clattering legs is still somehow upsetting. They can also pick up other scents like ammonia, so peeing in the woods only makes things worse. As soon as they smell you, they’re comin’ for you.”
Once the tick lands on you or your pet, it will immediately start moving to try to find skin. Ticks do (unfortunately) prefer moist and humid places, so, if given the option, a tick will attach itself to these places:
- Belly rolls (don’t hate — we all have ’em)
On your pets, ticks like the head area because the skin is thinner here, allowing easier access to the blood supply below, which is why you may find ticks on your pets’ ears and head areas. But ticks will attach anywhere, which is why it’s important to do a thorough check after coming indoors.
The best way to do a tick check is to shower after spending significant time outdoors. If this isn’t possible, you can still do a good once-over to make sure you haven’t become a tick’s dinner.
Check your clothing; remove it, if possible, to check the insides, outsides and backs. Examine yourself as closely as possible to ensure you haven’t picked up an unwanted hitchhiker. This includes your backside, front and hair.
If you do find a tick, use tweezers to remove it as closely to the skin as possible. If you yank on it, you may leave part of it embedded in your skin. If it is engorged, you may pop it. Not only is this disgusting beyond belief, but you may actually squeeze some of the blood the tick has ingested back into your body, and if the tick is carrying a disease, you put yourself at risk.
Here’s how to apply this popular tick preventive:
Use preventative medication on your pets. There are several types of medication, and a quick conversation with your veterinarian will help you choose the right type for your pet. You can use EPA-approved insect repellent on yourself, and some companies will come and spray your yard to help reduce the tick population.
There is no method that is 100% foolproof to avoid ticks, but being tick-aware will help you and your pet immeasurably.