Gardening: Troublesome ticks

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 21, 2017

Many of us have been working out in the yard over the past several weeks. The cool wet weather has caused a proliferation of ticks and other biting insects. Some of us have discovered to our consternation that those pesky little critters are back again this year.  A lot of folks thought that the freezing winter would kill most of the ticks. If this were true we wouldn’t have a tick problem especially in areas with rough winters. It would take weeks of temperatures below a minus six to kill overwintering bugs. Ticks can survive up to a year waiting for a host.

Ticks are arthropods, creatures that have eight legs.  Insects have six.

What makes ticks one of the most important groups of arthropods?  Their reputation precedes them. They carry some pretty serious diseases that can make our lives very difficult. Georgia ticks are known to transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Anaplasmosis, Human Ehrlichiosis and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. The first two are the most common. A tick usually must be on you for at least 24 hours to transmit a disease. Lyme disease was first associated with deer ticks near Lyme, Connecticut. The Native Americans in that area had avoided it for years but the settlers found out the hard way. The good thing about these diseases is that they are believed to be of bacterial origin so they can be readily treated with antibiotics. Keep an eye out for rashes, bull’s eyes rashes, joint pain and or flu like symptoms. Seek medical attention immediately.

The three-tick species that bite and cause most of the problems are the Lone Star tick, the American Dog tick and the Black-legged tick. The Lone Star has unusually long mouthparts and the other two are smaller in size with the Black-legged tick the smaller of the two. The Lone Star is aptly named. The American Dog tick has diffuse white markings and the smaller Black-legged tick has no white markings.

These three bad guys all develop through a similar life cycle. After they hatch out of an egg mass of more than 6,000 babies, they go through the larvae or “seed tick” stage, next to the nymph stage and finally to the adult stage. What does each stage have in common? They must feast on blood to develop into the next stage. The female adult is fertilized by the male while she is engorged with blood while still stuck to the host. It takes about two weeks to several months for the eggs to hatch into six-legged larvae called “seed ticks.” They usually hang around the egg mass, so if you stumble into an egg mass area you are in a heap of trouble.

The usual host for a seed tick is a small rodent. When they’re done with the rodent they will molt and graduate to the eight-legged nymph stage. The nymph will seek another host, engorge on blood, drop off, shed its skin and develop into an adult. The adults prefer large mammals such as deer, horses, dogs and us. How can they locate us so well?  They can detect exhaled carbon dioxide and body warmth. Feeding is usually painless. You couldn’t write a better script for a horror movie.

How do you prevent tick bites?  Avoid areas where vegetation may rub against your clothing or skin. Ticks can’t jump, fly or climb very high so they latch on with their hook-like claws as your walk by. Tuck your pants into your socks, your shirt into your pants and button your shirt. Shorts are a no-no. You want to force the ticks to climb upward toward your face where you can spot them quickly without them finding a good spot to get latched on. Spay your clothing and skin with a repellent containing “Deet.”  Repellents containing the insecticide permethrin can be used on clothing only.

Check for ticks twice a day. The longer the tick feeds on you, the greater the chance of transmitting disease. Early removal is good prevention. Use tweezers to pull the tick straight out without twisting and leaving mouthparts that might cause infection. Forget using a match. You don’t need to treat a burn as well. Disinfect the bite and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and hot water.

Eliminating ticks in the yard can be as simple as cutting all the tall grass and weeds. Providing outdoor pets with effective tick collars is also very important. The ones that work are expensive. Using repellants containing “DEET” has proven effective for adults. With children, you must carefully follow label directions for any repellant.

If we wish to enjoy the great outdoors either gardening, camping or hiking, we must learn how to deal with the predators out there, no matter how small.

Master Gardener Plant Sale Saturday, April 22

Troup County MSEV’s Annual Plant Sale. Don’t miss the plant sale on Saturday, April 22 at the Ag Center from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They will have a great selection from giant Aloes to Blood root, to Stokes Aster to Japanese Maples.

There will be perennials for sun and shade, vegetable plants, native plants, shrubs, trees. House plants, ground covers, annuals and living garden art. To see the full selection Google the Troup County Extension website and follow the links from ANR to Troup County MGEV.

There will also be an Ask-a Master Gardener info desk. You may also swap divisions of your plants at the exchange area at no cost. Buy locally grown plants that will thrive in your garden.

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church Street, LaGrange, (706) 883-1675. Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.