Roark: The extending tick season

Published 4:18 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

By Steve Roark

Contributing Writer


Since I’m in the woods a lot it’s reasonable to assume that I would have more ticks get on board and use me as a meal. But I have pulled ticks off every month for the past couple of winters, including the winter months when they are normally dormant. That’s not right, people! All of my bites have been deer ticks, smaller and harder to see and feel crawling around. Now that your family is outside more with the warming weather, best start body checking yourself and the kids. Since it’s good to know your enemy, here is a rundown on the tick lifestyle.


If you remember your science class, ticks are not insects but arthropods with eight legs. They are brown with flat, oval-shaped, hard bodies. They tend to move slower than most insects and are easy to catch. If you can’t squeeze the life out of it between your fingers, chances are good it’s a tick. The most common types in our area are the dog, deer, and lone star ticks.


The life cycle of ticks demonstrates their amazing design for survival. They hatch from eggs and go through three stages of growth: nymph (too small to see), larva (visible but small) and adult. During each of these stages, a tick must have a blood meal before growing into the next stage. Since ticks are slow and cannot fly, they rarely move more than a few yards away from where they hatch, so eating requires patience. They crawl out on the ends of blades of grass or brush and wait… and wait… and wait. They can wait for months by going into a semi-dormancy where they use very little energy. To prevent them from sleeping through contact with a potential meal, ticks have an extremely sensitive and rapid response to carbon dioxide, the stuff all mammals exhale. When they catch a whiff of carbon dioxide, the dormant tick becomes instantly activated and crawls rapidly onto anything that brushes by.


To feed, ticks bury the front part of their head into your skin. Sounds like it should hurt, but they are able to anesthetize the area before they begin feeding. Ticks literally gorge themselves on blood, and their bodies will swell up and become a gray-blue color.


Fertilization of the female takes place while she is still attached to the host. After she drops to the ground, she will lay four to six thousand eggs, which will hatch seven to 14 days later.


The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following method for removing an attached tick from your skin. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure, being sure not to twist or jerk the tick, as this could cause the mouthpart to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth part with tweezers if possible. If you can’t, leave it alone and let the skin heal. After removal of the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor.