My wife and I recently took one of our usual hikes to one of our most frequented places, White Water Canyon, just outside of Cascade in Bernard, Iowa. It's a really beautiful area where we recently did some foraging for blackcap raspberries. On this particular hike we were simply taking in the overlook, which is amazing.

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Along the way we saw loads of insect life. Including honeys bees,

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bumble bees,

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monarch butterflies,

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and my least favorite of them all; a tick.

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Yup, these guys are the reason for the post today. You know, it's almost impossible to feel these little devils crawling up your leg... ugh, it gives me the hebbie-jebbies just thinking about it. Yes, it is tick season and with it comes the ever needed lessons on just how bad these little nuisances can be and unfortunately, a multitude of environmental and human factors has created a near “perfect storm” over the past 20 years leading to a population explosion of ticks throughout North America.

1) Ticks can carry and transmit a number of diseases including;  Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Borrelia miyamotoi Disease, Colorado Tick Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Heartland and Bourbon Virus Diseases, Lyme Disease, Powassan Virus Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Rickettsia parkeri Rickettsiosis, Tickborne Relapsing Fever, and Tularemia. None of these disease is pretty and some can be life threating, in most instances, unless caught early. We are very familiar with Lyme Disease here and it's most frequently reported from the Upper Midwestern and northeastern United States. It causes the infamous bullseye pattern after a bite has occurred, along with flu like symptoms, and is spread by the black-legged ticks also known as "deer" ticks.

Photo Credit: Center For Disease Control and Prevention
Photo Credit: Center For Disease Control and Prevention
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2) Ticks are most active when we are most active. Ticks are most closely related to arachnids, like spiders or mites and remain inactive during the winter months, becoming active again with the warmer spring weather. This is also when females will lay their eggs. If adult females cannot find a suitable host during the fall, they will turn dormant and survive in leaf litter until the next spring. This is why it’s important to conduct tick checks after being outside in the woods, no matter what season it is.

3) Preventing tick bites is key. They are generally found near the ground, in brushy or wooded areas. They can’t jump or fly. Instead, they climb tall grasses or shrubs and wait for a potential host to brush against them. When this happens, they climb onto the host and seek a site for attachment. When going for a walk  always stay in the center of the path/trail when possible. Watch out for tree branches that hang above your head as ticks like to drop from trees and shrubs. Avoid leaf litter and piles of branches or leaves. Always conduct a tick check on yourself, your children, or pets after coming home from an outdoor adventure. You can also treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing, and camping gear and remains protective through several washings.

4) Which brings me my next point, make sure to check thoroughly for ticks. Make sure to check inside and behind ears, in body creases or cracks, and any where that hair grows. For animals, search ears, in between paw pads, inner thighs or other areas that may touch the ground or brush, and in any folds of skin. Ticks like to hide in these places since they are warm and humid. Another great way to remove ticks, before they get a hold, is simply by showering after being outdoors.

5) Uh-oh, we've been bitten, so now what? Well, if you find a tick attached to your skin, removing it as soon as possible is key. The longer ticks stay attached, the more likely a disease they carry will be transmitted to the host. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers works very well. First, grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. No twisting as we do not want to leave the ticks head imbedded in the host. After removal, clean the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol, or soap and water. If flu like illness, or issues like rashes develop on the skin, a trip to the doctor is a necessity. In addition, avoid folklore remedies like, “painting” the tick with nail polish, covering it with petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is ALWAYS to remove the tick as quickly as possible.

Photo Credit: CDC
Photo Credit: Center For Disease Control and Prevention
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6) Kill that tick. I don't think I have to tell you this, but smashing a tick between your fingers is NOT the way to kill them, that is unless you would also like to be bitten. Instead, dispose of a live tick by drowning it in rubbing alcohol. Wrap it tightly in tape. Send it down the toilet or drain. On the farm growing up, we always burned them with a  small torch or matches, or smashed them with a heavy stone. You can also place the tick in a sealed bag/container to take to a vet or doctor if you are concerned.

Stay safe on the trails this year and avoid those annoying little hangers-on. There seems to be a whole lot of them out there this year. For more information on our tiny, blood-sucking terrors visit the CDC website today.

Avoid the ticks while you're out and about at one of these local favorite hikes!

Hiking Trails and Nature near Dubuque, Iowa

Nature and hiking areas around the Dubuque, IA area.