Thursday, March 24, 2011

Controlling Tick Problems Around the Home

American Dog Tick-Adult Stage
Ticks are a problem all over Winston County. They are very common in wooded areas, pastures, fields, brushy areas, and sometimes even become common in our lawns and landscapes.  There are over 800 species of ticks worldwide. Fortunately only about 8 of them are found in North America; these include the American dog tick, the lone star tick, deer tick and the brown dog tick.  Ticks are technically not insects; they are arthropods with closer ties to spiders than insects. Adult ticks have 8 legs, although in the larval stage they have only have 6 legs. These larval stage ticks are often called “seed ticks”. 

The American dog tick is the most common tick in Alabama. In the southern U. S. this tick is active most of the year, which means we have more opportunities to encounter it. These ticks are small, adults are about ¼” long, red-brown in color, with a body that is flat and tear-drop shaped. This tick can be a carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which has been confirmed in Alabama.

Ticks are adept hitch-hikers. They don’t travel far on their own steam, but can be carried for miles by animals and birds.

I’m sometimes asked what is a tick good for? Even though people hate ticks, they are part of nature’s food chain, providing food for several species of birds that catch them in the fields or even pick them off an animal’s body.

As is the case with many pests, whether animal or plant, one solution is to use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to controlling their impacts. IPM involves using a range of control methods instead of relying only on one. IPM for ticks includes activities such as: treating pets with products labeled for tick control; treating their bedding for ticks; fastening garbage cans to discourage wildlife such as raccoons, opossums and squirrels from feeding near your home; trimming shrubs and cutting grass along paths frequented by animals, as these actions decrease contact between parasite (tick) and host (dog or human). Insecticides can be used to control ticks, but no product is going to entirely remove them. Ticks are part of our environment; their eradication is not practical – their reduction and management is.

Minimizing human exposure to tick bites is another tactic we can employ as part of an IPM program. Tick bites can cause reactions that include itching and possibly a rash around the bite spot. Therefore, if you’re gardening or working in areas with substantial underbrush, dressing appropriately is advisable. Dress entirely in light colored clothing as the dark ticks will show up better. Applying an insect repellent containing DEET to shoe tops, around the waist, and on exposed skin will also help.

Generally, ticks must be attached for several hours before diseases can be passed from tick to host, so removing ticks promptly can reduce chances of contacting disease. To remove a tick, use a pair of finely pointed tweezers, firmly grasp the tick as close as you can to where it’s attached. Immediately disinfect the bite with rubbing alcohol or iodine. If possible, avoid removing ticks with your bare fingers as a tick that is crushed is more likely to introduce a disease.

The publication “Tactics for Tick Control” is available for review at and can be downloaded, or you may contact our office at 489-5376 for more information.

No comments: