April showers bring May flowers, but springtime also brings the dreaded tick. Ticks are part of the arachnid family, which also includes mites, spiders, and scorpions. They are often found in shady, damp, leafy, wooded, or grassy areas, including our backyards.
Ticks feed on the blood of people, dogs, cats, deer, birds, mice and other mammals. They can spread diseases like Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In Massachusetts, blacklegged ticks a.k.a. deer ticks spread Lyme disease (see picture). The highest incidence rates are among children and the elderly.
Deer ticks have a two-year life cycle and go through three stages of development: larvae, nymph and adult. In the early spring, adult deer ticks that were dormant during the winter emerge to lay thousands of eggs in leaf litter and other brush. Later in the spring, nymph stage deer ticks begin to look for their first blood meal of the season, often targeting humans, pets, and rodents. It is estimated that around 20% of nymph stage ticks, which are highly active during the late spring, carry Lyme disease.
After being outdoors this spring, remember these two important tick tips:
- Perform Tick Checks on yourself, your family, and pets. The TickEncounter Resource Center says, “The simplest way to protect yourself is to remove a tick before it has a chance to transmit disease-causing pathogens.” Do a full-body check, but focus on the back of your knees, around your waist, under armpits, and on your scalp. Ticks DO NOT wash off in the shower.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later. Examine pets, coats, and day packs. Place the clothes you and your family are wearing in the dryer for about 15 minutes on high. This will kill any ticks on clothing.
Lyme disease prevention starts with awareness. If you find a tick, use our Tick Identification Card to identify the species and life-cycle stage.
If you are picking up ticks on your property, learn about our National Organic Program compliant tick sprays.