Of all the pests that tend to be worrisome to those who love the outdoors, ticks often top the list. Tick season has really ramped up quickly in May and June with many reports of ticks in here in Central Kansas.
In Kansas there are several different species of ticks including the American dog tick, Lone star tick, Brown dog tick and the Black-legged tick that are of significance to humans and pets. These ticks can be vectors for several disease pathogens including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, and others.
How ticks find you
Ticks do not jump or drop from trees, but rather they are usually found within a few inches or feet of the ground. Ticks can crawl several feet in response to the stimuli from a host. Stimuli may be things such as carbon dioxide, movement, and body heat. Ticks most commonly use an ambush technique called ‘questing’. When a tick is ‘questing’ it simply sits on the edge of a blade of grass with its front arms outstretched. When the host (an animal or you) brushes against the plant the tick will immediately release from the vegetation and grab on. Once the tick has made it onto the host it crawls around seeking a site to attach and feed.
Ticks feed using what is called a ‘hypostome’. This is basically a spiky tongue that is inserted into the skin of the host. The tongue draws up blood and the barbs on the tongue have a natural cement that help hold the tick in place to feed. The cement also makes the tick hard to remove.
Ticks are best removed manually by grasping them as close to the skin as possible with tweezers. The tick should be removed with slow and steady pressure while pulling straight away from the skin. The tick should not be twisted or jerked out of the skin because this might cause the head to become detached and left in the skin. Beware that using products such as alcohol or essential oils can sometimes cause the tick to ‘vomit’ into you and increase the chance of a disease transmission.
It is a good idea to avoid going into tall grass, weeds, and brushy areas and to restrict pets from such areas when possible. Keeping areas around the home mowed and trimmed regularly is an important preventative step and will also help expose ticks to sunlight and consequent desiccation. Wearing light-colored clothing is also a good idea since it helps you see ticks before they can reach the skin. Repellents based on DEET and permethrin work well at keeping ticks (and mosquitoes) away preventatively. Permethrin-based repellents must not be applied directly to skin.
A final key way to prevent tick related health problems is to always inspect skin and remove ticks immediately after coming home from potentially tick-infested areas. Ticks removed quickly (within several hours) after attachment are very unlikely to transmit pathogens.
In some cases, acaricides can be useful in managing chronic tick problems. Chemical pesticides targeting ticks are called acaricides. These products should be used only in areas with chronic tick problems. Effective compounds for outdoor tick control include bifenthrin, carbaryl, cyfluthrin, Lambda-cyhalothrin or permethrin. Broadcast applications of acaracides are rarely necessary in the yard. Rather, spot treatment along fences, kennels, or shaded areas is preferred. Acaracides are best applied indoors or outdoors by a licensed exterminator. Always follow state laws and label requirements when applying an insecticide/acaracide.