Of the 850 tick species found worldwide, the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is most often found in North America. Here’s how to control them naturally without using harsh chemicals and toxic sprays.
Description: A blood feeding external parasite of mammals, birds, and reptiles, ticks are important vectors of disease causing agents. They attach firmly to their host, feed slowly and may go unnoticed for several days while feeding. As a result, ticks transmit the widest variety of pathogens of any blood sucking arthropod. Some human diseases of interest include Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and tick-borne relapsing fever.
Adults (1/4 inch long) have eight legs and are reddish-brown with white or yellow irregular markings on their body. Females are slightly larger than males and can grow as large as 1/2 inch long after a blood meal. To feed, they grab onto a host, secrete an anesthetic, and painlessly burrow into the skin with their mouth parts. Bites can cause skin irritations or even allergic reactions in sensitive people.
Note: Ticks are divided into two groups: hard and soft. Hard ticks have a shield on their backs and are tapered at the head end; they are the most easily recognized by people. Soft ticks lack the shield-like plate, have a blunt head end and look like pieces of bark or debris. Both groups are important vectors of disease.
Life Cycle: The life-cycle of the tick varies greatly depending upon species. The American dog tick is considered a “three host tick,” because it has three different host animals during its lifetime. In northern latitudes it overwinters in all stages except the egg. Adults are more prevalent in the spring, and after obtaining a blood meal and mating the females deposit up to 4,000 eggs in large masses on the ground. Hatching occurs in 30 or more days, and the 6-legged larval stage crawls up on surrounding vegetation and clings to any passing animals that rub against it. After a 3-12 day feeding period, they drop off and molt to the 8-legged nymph. After feeding on another host, nymphs again drop off and molt into the adult stage. The cycle may be completed during a period of a few weeks to several months or a year or more.
Tick Control: Keep grassy and weedy areas trimmed and remove wood piles to reduce harborage for tick hosts. Whenever possible, stay out of tick-infested areas, grassy pastures, prairies and wooded areas. Restrict movement of your pets. When entering infested areas, wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers with tight-fitting cuffs. Wear light-colored clothing. Ticks are easier to see on a light background. Where the above methods are insufficient, apply natural pesticides to areas where pests may be hiding.
Tip: Frequent inspection and removal reduces the risk of disease transmission. After crawling on a potential host, a tick may take up to a day to attach and feed, so you may be able to remove a tick before it has attached. In addition, the risk of disease transmission is related to the length of feeding so attached pests should be removed promptly. Ticks tend to concentrate on the head, shoulders, and neck.
Note: Because most of these pests have flat bodies, and a hard, protective “shield,” they are not easily injured, and they have few natural predators.
If a tick should become attached to you or your pet, remove it as soon as possible. Prompt removal reduces the chance of infection by Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.
• Shield your fingers with a paper towel, use tweezers or wear rubber gloves. Grasp the tick close to the skin, and with steady pressure, pull straight out.
• Do not twist or jerk, as mouthparts may be left in the skin. Take care not to crush or puncture the pest during removal.
• Use of a hot match or cigarette is NOT recommended as this may cause the tick to burst. Spotted fever may be acquired from infected pest body fluids that come in contact with broken skin, the mouth, or eyes.
• Avoid touching with bare hands – secretions can be infectious. Spotted fever can be acquired through self-inoculation into a small scratch or cut.
• After removal, thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash hands with soap and water.
• Ticks can be tested for disease. Contact the Vector-borne Disease Program of the Department of Health. Place in a small jar or zip-lock plastic bag, along with a few blades of green grass (to provide moisture). Store in a cool place until it can be delivered.
• Safely dispose of these pests by placing them in a container of oil or alcohol, sticking them to tape, or flushing them in the toilet.
Provided by Ohio State University