Tick Talk with Pat Atkinson

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir

The two places I go when I need to wash my spirit clean are to a long sandy beach or to a favorite trail in the woods. As winter loses its icy grip and new life begins to emerge from the soil, what better place to enjoy the miracle of nature’s rebirth than the woods. Unfortunately, Spring is also the time when we begin to observe the presence of ticks. Ticks can occur year-round but they are most active from April through September. And ticks, we know can be vectors for diseases. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a walk in the woods. By taking a few precautions and using a little common sense, you can safely enjoy the splendors of the forest.

What do ticks look like?

The black legged deer tick, the American dog tick and the lone star tick are the three most common ticks found in New York State. The bacterium that causes Lyme disease can be carried by the deer tick. In the nymph stage of development, deer tick is brown and about the size of a poppy seed. When they reach adult form, they are about the size of a sesame seed. The adult female deer tick is red and black in color while the adult male deer tick is all black. The American dog tick can be a vector of the bacterium that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It is reddish brown in color and larger than deer ticks. Both the deer tick and the American dog tick are active from April through the fall. The lone star tick can carry the germ that causes rash illnesses. The adult female lone star ticks have a white dot on their back and are about the size of a deer tick. They are most active from April through July. See illustration below.


Where do ticks live?

The woods are not the only place where you can find ticks. They also live in grassy or brushy areas. One time I was surprised that my dogs became completely covered in ticks after walking down a very short trail to a rocky outcrop on Narragansett Bay in RI. We had walked down the path to take some pictures. It wasn’t until I was posing my dogs on the rocks that I discovered their faces were covered in American dog ticks. They had picked up the ticks by brushing against the tall grasses that line the trail. So, yes, ticks can be found not just in the woods but, even in your own back yard. The video below describes how and where ticks are collected for research.

What can I do to protect myself from getting ticks?

New York State Dept. of Health recommends the following:

· Wear light colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.

· Wear enclosed shoes, long pants and a long -sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.

· Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors.

· Tumble dry your dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes. If your clothes are wet and dirty, wash first in hot water.

· Consider using tick repellant.

· Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Walk in the center of trails. Avoid dense woods and brushy areas.

· Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.

· Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.

· Bathe or shower as soon as possible after going indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks on you.

· Do final, full body tick checks at the end of the day (also check children and pets) and remove ticks promptly.

What repellants are effective against ticks?

NYS Health suggests using EPA-registered insect repellants that contain 20% DEET or more . It can last for several hours so use the lowest amount for the time you will be outdoors. Picaridin is nearly odorless and can be applied to exposed skin. You could also spray your clothing and camping gear with Permethrin. Permethrin should NEVER be applied to skin. Always follow product instructions. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) is also approved by the EPA. Alternative to these products are botanical oils such as geranium, cedar, lemongrass, soy, or citronella. These products are not regulated the same way as the EPA products and have not been tested for their effectiveness. They may also pose heath concerns for some people and may not be as effective as the EPA products according to NYS Health Dept. For more information about prevention, see the link.

How do I safely remove a tick?

Use tweezers to grasp the tick by the head or mouth, not the body. Pull firmly and steadily outward. Try not to jerk or twist the tick. Put the tick in a small container of rubbing alcohol to kill it. Clean the wound with rubbing alcohol or peroxide. Monitor the bite wound over the next 30 days for the appearance of a rash. If you do develop a rash or flu like symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

How do I protect my dog from getting ticks?

Talk to your veterinarian about tick preventative treatments. While hiking in the woods keep your dog on the trail and carefully check him for ticks using a comb and brush after the hike. Check your pet daily after spending time outdoors. See illustration below for where to check your pet for ticks.

Ticks have been around since the Cretaceous Period and will undoubtedly be here for eons to come. By taking a few preventative measures and being alert to your environment, you can still enjoy quality time outdoors to “wash your spirit clean”.

For more information visit:

The NYS Department of Health

CDC article on avoiding ticks on pets

CDC article on avoiding ticks on people

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