Tick Management and Control

Ticks have been a menace to humanity for millennia. As tick habitat has rebounded and we have moved further into this habitat the menace to our health has grown.

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Last week I watched the webinar “Tick Management and Control” sponsored by the UMass Laboratory of Medical Zoology and UMass Extension.

The presenters were :

Dr. Stephen Rich, Professor of Microbiology and Director of the UMass Laboratory of Medical Zoology, and Dr. Kirby Stafford, Chief Scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and CT State Entomologist.

They discussed tick management strategies applicable to landscapes in the Northeast.

What I learned about Tick Management and Control

Management and control is really up to the individual and home owner. In Massachusetts there are mosquito control districts but no municipal or state-wide tick control organizations.

Many areas spray for mosquitoes but none or very few do anything about ticks.

Habitat Management and Control

The best way to control ticks around your home is to reduce habitat for ticks, deer and mice.

ticks, tall grassTicks like shaded areas that retain moisture. Low cut grass is not good tick habitat but the edge of the woods behind your house or a pile of leaves or yard waste are perfect.

Ticks can survive the winter under leaf litter and snow pack. So removing leaf and brush piles from your yard is important. Keeping areas around doors clear of debris and snow pack will help keep ticks away from your home.

The webinar discusses landscaping ideas to help reduce the tick population in your yard.

Keeping deer out of your yard is very helpful.  Deer host infected ticks but do not infect the ticks.

Each adult tick hosted by a deer can lay 2,000 eggs. So you can see that if you have several deer wandering around your yard and each deer drops off just a few ticks, you could have a major tick problem.

Excluding deer from your yard with deer fencing and reducing the amount of food available to them are the most acceptable ways to deal with deer.

Reducing herds through hunting is difficult in populated areas and is controversial to many people.

Treating deer is discussed in the webinar, but this requires a lot of work and can be expensive.

Excluding deer from your yard is the most effective method.

Mice actually carry the viruses that make us sick. Mice like those piles of yard waste, rock walls and other places where they can hide and nest.

Several treatments to kill ticks on mice are discussed, but they can be expensive and not very effective.

Reducing food and habitat are the best ways to control your mouse population.

Personal Protection and Behavior Change

Even if your yard is clear of ticks, the rest of the world is not. In one study the webinar cites, 47% of reported cases were from ticks picked up while playing.

This means kids at parks, in the back yard or even in woods and fields. It’s hard to keep kids out of tick habitat and that is why tick checks, clothes washing and awareness are so important.

The same study reported that 18% of cases were from yard work and 12% from gardening. A full 30% of cases were adults picking up ticks in their own yard.

Only 1% were reported from camping, 7% from hiking and 4% from walking the dog.

While the study may not be 100% accurate, it does illustrate that about half of tick borne diseases are picked up by children playing and about a third are picked up by adults in their own back yards.

Keeping your yard clear of debris and doing tick checks when you or your kids come inside can be very effective in reducing tick borne disease.

Read What Runners need to know about Tick and Mosquito Season.

The UMass webinar discussed pesticides but mostly for your yard.

The most effective pesticides for your yard must be applied by a professional. Studies of essential oils showed limited and inconsistent results.

You can buy permethrin to spray on clothes, or clothing infused with permethrin. This chemical is very effective at killing ticks but needs to be handled carefully.

Never spray it on clothes that someone is wearing and never spray permethrin in an enclosed area like your home. I would be reluctant to expose my children to very much permethrin also.

Before you use this or any other pesticide read the labels thoroughly.

Reducing habitat and using personal protection seem to be the easiest, least expensive and safest things to do.

A tick invasion?

When I was a child I spent a lot of time in the woods and fields of Maine. We worried about black flies, horse flies and sometimes mosquitoes.

These insects were pests but we never worried about getting a disease from them. We never worried about ticks. I saw my first tick in 2019!

The webinar mentions a Swedish naturalist who visited America in the 1700’s. He wrote that the land was beautiful but when ever he sat down he was swarmed by ticks.

In the 1870’s the New York State Entomologist reported that he could not find any ticks during his research.

Dr. Stafford explains the difference was deforestation and over hunting of the deer population. Much land had been cleared for pasture, firewood and building materials into the late 1800’s.

Between loss of habitat and hunting the deer population had plummeted in New York.

I’ve read that at one point almost 90% of Massachusetts was deforested. Today something like 60-70% of Massachusetts is forested land.

With the return of deer habitat and the moist habitat in which ticks flourish, we have had a resurgence in the tick population.

Studies of tick specimens collected in Europe in the 1800’s show that some carried Lyme Disease.

Oldest case of Lyme DiseaseDr. Stafford also mentioned that the “Ice Man” who was discovered in the Alps and is estimated to be 5,000 years old showed signs of Lyme Disease.

A Yale School of Medicine study from 2013 shows that the Lyme Disease bacterium existed in North America as long as 60,000 years ago.

Humanity has been dealing with ticks and tick-borne disease for millennia. Lyme disease was only officially discovered in the 1976.

Over the years tick diseases probably killed or debilitated millions of humans, but no one knew what the actual cause was.

Here is the webinar if you would like more details on Tick management and control.

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