Evidence suggests that spring may finally be arriving in Iowa. The tulips are in bloom, the redbud trees are blooming, people are busily mowing their lawns . . . and ticks are starting to become active. While ticks can occasionally be found during the cold weather months, it is the spring that triggers their greatest activity. As a result, ticks are starting to be sent to our office for identification.
Lone Star ticks and American dog ticks are by far the most common ticks encountered in Iowa. Both of these species have similar life cycles and habits. There are four stages in their life cycle: the egg, larva, nymph, and adult. The larva, nymph, and adult stages must each obtain a bloodmeal from a separate host in order for the life cycle to continue. For this reason, they are often referred to as 3-host ticks. While all stages can and will infest any warm-blooded animal if need be, they seem to have some preference in terms of the hosts they choose. Adult ticks commonly infest large and medium-sized animals such as dogs, deer, raccoons, and opossum. The larva and nymph stages may feed on these same hosts but prefer to infest smaller animals such as field mice, squirrels, and rabbits. All stages will readily feed on humans if given the opportunity.
Since Lone Star ticks and American Dog ticks must be in areas of high humidity in order to survive, they are most commonly encountered in wooded or brushy areas, or in areas where there is tall grassy or weedy vegetation. These ticks are seldom a problem in well-clipped and well-maintained lawns, although they may be found in adjacent border areas if the habitat is suitable for their survival.
Controlling ticks in outdoor areas is extremely difficult. While several insecticides are labeled for outdoor tick control, these products are usually not effective in eliminating large numbers of ticks for extended periods of time.
The best approach when working or recreating in tick-infested areas is to use personal protection to avoid or minimize the likelihood of encountering ticks. Wearing long pants tucked into boots or socks and using tick repellents is an effective way of minimizing tick exposure. Careful inspection of all family members and pets after being in tick-infested areas also is important.
The only recommended method for the removal of an attached tick is to grasp the tick just behind the point of attachment with a fine-point tweezers and then pull straight out using slow, steady pressure until the tick is dislodged. The bite area should then be washed and an antiseptic applied. The use of gasoline, fingernail polish remover, or a match or other hot object is not recommended and can actually cause more harm than good.
Some pictures of ticks are available in the Entomology Image Gallery.
This article originally appeared in the 4/16/2004 issue.