Why should we care whether we’re harming other insects when we fight ticks?
About 75 percent of food crops (and 90 percent of all flowering plants) depend on insects for pollination, accounting for 35 percent of the plant-based food supply coming from farms. Many animals directly or indirectly rely on insects for food. Insects form the foundation of life on earth, and they are in crisis.
An international team of biologists recently estimated that the abundance of insects had decreased 45 percent in the past 35 years, and a German study showed a 75 percent decline in biomass of flying insects. Dozens of bird species, which feed caterpillars and other insects to their young, have lost more than 50 percent of their populations between 1970 and 2014. These declines have been attributed to habitat loss, agricultural practices, pesticides, and climate change.
- Tick Facts
- How Ticks Feed and Spread Diseases
- What Can You do to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Ticks?
First, it’s important to understand more about ticks and their behavior. The four most common ticks in Virginia are the lone star tick, deer (or blacklegged) tick, American dog tick, and brown dog tick. The brown dog tick is not known to carry diseases in Virginia. The Asian longhorned tick was reported for the first time in the United States in 2017. They are a new tick in Virginia, as well as in 16 other states.
Most ticks are active April to September, but adult blacklegged ticks are most active in winter, so it’s important to be aware year-round. The appearance of ticks varies depending on their life stage and whether they are male or female.
Information on identifying the American dog tick, lone star tick, and deer tick is available from the Virginia Cooperative Extension in Common Ticks of Virginia. Preventing Tick-Borne Diseases from the Virginia Department of Health also provides minimum disease transmission time, which varies depending on the tick, life stage, and the disease. Checking yourself, your family, and your pets every four to six hours for ticks when outside will prevent most disease transmission.
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How Ticks Feed and Spread Diseases
Ticks need a blood meal at each stage of their lifecycle (larva, nymph, and adult) from hosts like mice, rabbits, deer, birds, dogs, horses, reptiles, and amphibians. Humans are accidental hosts and not preferred.
Ticks live primarily on the ground in leaf litter and don’t fly or jump. When they’re ready for a blood meal, they wait on grass or shrubs and climb on as a host comes by. Not every tick carries disease. Ticks that do carry pathogens can transmit them through feeding, which can take 4-6 hours or as long as 36 hours to transmit disease, depending on the disease and the species of tick.
What Can You do to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Ticks?
Spraying pesticides to control ticks is ineffective because ticks reside primarily within leaf litter where the sprays cannot reach them, or they are brought in by animal hosts. The pesticides, however, are nonselective and will kill pollinators and other beneficial insects they come in contact with. There are much more effective ways to protect yourself, your family, and your pets and still enjoy the outdoors.
- Keep grass cut, remove leaf litter and brush, and create a mulch barrier between wooded areas and lawn and around patios and play areas.
- Exclude deer and other wildlife with fences.
- Keep to the center of paths when hiking so ticks cannot crawl on you from shrubs and grasses.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and tuck your pants into your socks. Light clothing makes it easier to see ticks (though it doesn’t keep them away).
- Use insect repellents with ingredients such as DEET (25 percent to 30 percent — but do not use on infants or cut skin), Picardin (20 percent), oil of Eucalyptus, and IR-3535 (ingredient in Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard).
- Treat clothes and shoes with Permethrin designed for this purpose, and be sure to follow directions carefully.
- Put clothes in a hot dryer for at least 10 minutes to kill ticks (washing them won’t do it).
- Ask your veterinarian for tick controls for your pets.
If you’ve been in an area where ticks are likely, check yourself, your children, and pets at least every four to six hours. Put clothes in a hot dryer for at least 10 minutes to kill ticks (washing them won’t do it). If you find a tick, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and pull gently upward. Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine scrub, or soap and water.
If you want help identifying a tick, take it in a plastic bag or container in alcohol or hand sanitizer to the Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at the Fairlington Community Center. Not every tick or tick bite transmits disease. But if you develop a rash or fever or other unusual symptoms, see your doctor.
MGNV & VCE Resources
- Mosquito and Tick Management: Pesticide Reduction for Pollinator Protection
- Controlling Mosquitoes & Ticks in Your Yard without Pesticides – Recorded Public Education class
- Common Ticks of Virginia – Virginia Cooperative Extension
- Beat the Bite: Top Tick Tips – Arlington County Health Department
- “Bugs” & Human Health – Ticks – Virginia Department of Health
- Lyme Disease – Arlington County Health Department
- Preventing Tick Borne Diseases in Virginia – Virginia Department of Health
- Tick Information and Prevention – City of Alexandria
- Tick Check 1-2 (Lyme Disease Prevention Rap) – Fairfax County
- Ticks – Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Based on a post by Joan McIntyre, Extension Master Gardener