Ticks on the Move

Features - Tick Control

There’s lots to discuss regarding ticks: their ranges are expanding, they are spreading more disease and new species are emerging in your service areas.

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July 12, 2021

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It’s summer, and ticks have been all over the news lately. Almost everywhere you look, you’ll find information on tick locations, diseases they carry, predictions on if it will be a “bad” season and what to do about it. Customers are seeing this on their local and national news feeds. As they start calling your company with concerns, here are a few things to keep in mind.

RANGES ARE EXPANDING

The gradually warming climate has given many tick species the ability to expand their range. Their life cycle may be shortened, and the time they are active during the season may be increased. In other words, ticks survive better, develop faster and are actively looking to feed longer. Research has shown that blacklegged ticks and Gulf Coast ticks in particular are expanding to new areas. With that comes the potential for more diseases like Lyme disease and Rickettsia parkeri (similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever). Wherever you live in the United States, there are one or more tick species that are of concern. The CDC has a webpage that lists ticks and their ranges. Just remember the “edge” of their range is an estimate, not a hard line.

Some good news: Extreme weather events could negatively impact tick populations. This is likely to be short-lived, though, and only affects populations on a seasonal basis, not long-term. However, ticks are hardy and can survive some pretty harsh conditions.

DISEASES ARE INCREASING

The pathogens ticks carry can cause disease, and those diseases are becoming more prevalent. Lyme disease is probably the most widely covered tickborne disease. The CDC revised estimates last year to bring the yearly average to more than 470,000 suspected cases each year. Though estimates vary, this costs upwards of $1 billion a year in medical expenses.

Customers hearing about Lyme and other tickborne diseases may call for tick treatments, hoping that will help protect them. Be careful with what gets communicated to them. While a backyard tick treatment (along with other IPM methods) can reduce ticks, it can’t stop the customer from getting bitten by a tick on a weekend hike or a playdate in the local park. Clearly communicate with them about where the treatment will go and where ticks are likely to be in their yard. Let them know what they can look out for and how to protect themselves, especially when in other outdoor spaces.

Not in the range of ticks that vector Lyme disease? There is also Powassan virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Alpha-gal syndrome, the red meat allergy vectored by the Lone Star tick.

NOT JUST TICKS

Tick control isn’t all about the ticks. Ticks have a complicated life cycle that spans multiple years and multiple hosts. Depending on the species of tick, they typically start their first blood meal on a small mammal. A site infested with mice has the potential to have a lot more ticks because of the abundance of host animals. Reducing the host animals can reduce tick populations.

It’s about the habitat, as well. Questing ticks, those looking for a warm body to feast on, will climb a tall blade of grass or small sapling and wave their front legs in the air until an unsuspecting host brushes by. Then they latch on. They like habitats in between short grassy areas and the more wild, unkempt areas. Ticks won’t hang out in lawns; they’ll be in the tall weeds at the edge of the property or where it meets the woods and forested area. That’s where their host animals will be. Focusing efforts there, factoring in rodent control and letting the customer know it is a tick “hot spot” will greatly enhance efficacy.

It’s not just mice. Ticks are also common on deer, rabbits, squirrels, birds and even lizards. While you may not be able to manage those animals, you can reduce rodents and encourage the customer to remove habitat for the other animals.

NEW TICK IN TOWN

The Asian longhorned tick was reported for the first time in the U.S. in 2017, though it was likely here a few years before that (as early as 2010). As of late 2020, it had been found in 15 eastern states, and it continues to spread. One of the big issues with this tick is it reproduces parthenogenetically: females don’t need a male and can produce thousands of progeny in a short timespan. So when this tick is found, it is typically found by the thousands, not just one or two individuals. If you think you have encountered this tick, make sure to contact your state agriculture department or local agricultural extension office and collect samples if possible for identification.

While this tick species could spread a number of diseases to humans and especially livestock, it has not been known to do so in the U.S. as of this article being published. Even better: they have only rarely been known to bite humans.

PROTECT YOURSELF

As you work with customers to provide tick treatments, ensure you are not putting yourself at risk. Workers should wear long pants and long sleeves (you likely already are if you are doing treatments), and think about tucking pant legs into socks if you are going into potential tick habitat. When inspecting or spending time in those ecotone zones, or “in-between” areas, consider using repellent. Do a tick check at the end of your shift and make sure you have no ticks feeding on you. Remember to be safe in your own backyard and when you are out in nature, not just on the job.

With more people working from home and staying at home, residential pest control, including tick management, will continue to be an issue. Be cognizant of where the prime tick habitat is and target treatments to those areas. Make sure to recommend habitat reduction to the customers, and don’t forget about the hosts — mice in particular. Never forget that you are the most important resource: protect yourself!

Chelle Hartzer is a Board Certified Entomologist at 360 Pest and Food Safety Consulting. Email her at chellehartzer360@gmail.com.