Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Big season for ticks?

After such a warm winter and early spring there has been a lot of discussion among those who love the outdoors about ticks and whether or not this will have kept more alive to leap on us in the coming months. One would think that more would have survived without any frigid cold or much snow whatsoever, and the proof of this would be in how some were active even in the normally "safe" months. I have been telling people that you should check yourself for deer ticks, or black-legged ticks, year-round as I was picking them up in relatively surprising locations, such as one in my yard on December 26. If you cannot even leave the house without getting one the day after Christmas it is time to be wary wherever whenever!

It turns out that is not entirely how it works in the world of ticks. Twan sent me this intriguing article from Science Daily that says it will indeed be a huge season for ticks - but not for the reason outlined above. The mild winter may have led some otherwise dormant adults to leap onto us when they had the chance, but they are far from the real threat according to Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. The issues are the white-footed mouse population and acorn crop, as explained in the piece:

What do acorns have to do with illness? Acorn crops vary from year-to-year, with boom-and-bust cycles influencing the winter survival and breeding success of white-footed mice. These small mammals pack a one-two punch: they are preferred hosts for black-legged ticks and they are very effective at transmitting Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

"We had a boom in acorns, followed by a boom in mice. And now, on the heels of one of the smallest acorn crops we've ever seen, the mouse population is crashing," Ostfeld explains. Adding, "This spring, there will be a lot of Borrelia burgdorferi-infected black-legged ticks in our forests looking for a blood meal. And instead of finding a white-footed mouse, they are going to find other mammals -- like us."
That does not sound very, uh, good. Again, I encourage you to read the entire engrossing article here and to keep this in mind when you are anywhere close to the woods in the next few months. Even if you venture into your yard you should keep an eye on yourself and your pets. You might use sprays and lotions, wear many layers, tuck your pants in your socks, etc., but the only way to truly prevent being bitten is to change all of your clothes immediately and check every inch of yourself when you come back into the house. Good luck and stay safe while we enjoy the bounty of birds on the way back to our forests.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

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