Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Tick of Spring

My compulsive wife always comes in first, this time by collecting the first ticks of the year.  Even the tiny one, the size of a period, had eight legs, indicating a degree of maturity.  When ticks emerge from the egg they have six legs.  After a blood meal they molt and develop the structure they will carry through the next molt to a sexually active adult.  The only solace we can get from this is that after they mate and lay eggs they die.

Ticks are tough.  Their hard shell resists squeezing unless between your fingernails- (Barb just bites their heads off).  In one study of the nymph stage they kept them underwater at near freezing temperatures for 160 days, then let them out and they found a blood meal.  Lone Star ticks have been shown to live as long as three years before finding a meal.  It is therefore no wonder that they hang on so tenaciously once they find us.

Ticks are arachnids, related to spiders and scorpions, thus the eight legs.  Many articles make a point of saying that we are not their desired host.  In spite of this, I have never had one apologize for its error. 

According to Conservation magazine, ticks find us by questing, hanging on vegetation with their back legs while reaching out with their hooked front pair of legs.  They sense our presence by "exhaled carbon dioxide and emitted body odors".  I do not intend to speculate which sense they used to find Barb.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has a good source for avoiding and treating tick bites at this site.  Insect repellent and careful observation of all body areas after being outside are important.  The rapid removal of a tick will decrease the likelihood of their transmitting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, etc.  Removing them with clear tape while they are crawling on your skin makes it easier to differentiate dog ticks, deer ticks and Lone Star ticks, the sign of a hard core Master Naturalist.

Tick anatomy and mouthparts- see this site.

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