As we head outdoors to enjoy the warm weather you should also bear in mind the insects are also responding to the warm temperatures and becoming active as well. Ticks have been active for several weeks already this year. So far this year the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic has received only samples of the black-legged tick (also called the deer tick) which is a known carrier of Lyme disease.
Ticks are most common in areas with a thick understory or tall grass. They do not live in trees. Ticks need high humidity to survive which is why they are found in tall grass and vegetation and not in home lawns.
For more information on common Iowa ticks and the disease they can carry please see the pamphlet Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases in Iowa (you can download it as a free PDF).
If you are walking in an area that is likely to have ticks – areas with ground vegetation, especially in the woods – you can tuck your pant legs into your socks and treat your shoes socks and pant legs with an insect repellent containing DEET or permethrin. Tucking your pant legs in forces the tick to climb on the outside of your clothing where it will encounter the repellent and where you will be more likely to see and remove it.
In home yard situations there are insecticides labeled for outdoor control of ticks but they have limited effectiveness and are not recommended. Keeping grass and vegetation mowed is the best option. Ticks need high humidity and removing their tall grass and vegetation habitat is the best management option.
For more information on tick control in yards please see this article: Tick control in the yard and landscape.
Checking for ticks
It is always important to check yourself and pets for ticks after walking in grassy areas, woods, and parks. Check as soon as possible; a tick must be attached and feeding for at least 24 hours before disease transmission becomes likely. Ticks tend to crawl up, so although they get onto us on our lower legs they are often found attached and feeding in the hair and ears although they can be found all over the body. Interestingly different species of ticks will have different preferred attachment sites on humans. To be safe, just check everywhere.
If a tick is found it should be removed immediately by grasping it as close to your body as possible with a pair of tweezers and pulling it out with steady even pressure. Jerking it might result in the mouthparts breaking off and remain embedded in the skin.
Do NOT use matches, lighter fluid, petroleum jelly or any other method to try to get the tick to back out of the body. All of these “home remedies’ are not effective and may disturb the tick and cause it to regurgitate into the body increasing the chance of disease transmission.
If you develop any illness, fever or rash within a few weeks of removing a tick be sure to let your doctor know you had a tick bite. If you have have a black-legged tick attached and feeding be sure to speak with your doctor about the risks of Lyme disease and preventive measures.
Speak with your veterinarian about options to prevent ticks on pets or if you find a tick attached and feeding on your pet.