I’ve known you all my life.  Since I was little I’ve avoided you.  I’ve double checked every inch of me to be sure you aren’t hitching a ride.  And still I’ll find you crawling across my hand when I’m sitting at my desk.  And the question is…How in this good green earth did you get there??  I mean seriously.  You didn’t crawl across the table, I’d have noticed (wouldn’t I?)  But there you are.  And then (bug friendly folks turn your heads please) I squish or burn you before you BITE me!  Eewww.  I hesitated in writing this because you are so….eeewwww!  However, my friends and I were talking the other day, and we were arguing about which breeds of ticks can give a person Lyme Disease.  I’d heard it was only the little brown ones with white markings on their backs (Dog Tick) but my friend had heard it was only the little red ones (Deer Tick).  And then I realized how little I actually know about ticks.  And although I don’t necessarily Want to know ticks, it’s important to be informed about your enemy.  So here is what I found (because no one should suffer alone).

Male Deer Ticks (click to link to image) are small, flat, and black.  The females (click to link to image) are a little larger and red with a black shield around their heads.  I had always thought the tiny black ones were the babies because I’d often find them attached along with the bigger red ones.  The females gorge themselves on blood, grow to be the larger gray ticks, fall off and lay up to 3000 eggs before they die.  This whole process can take up to two years.

The eggs hatch in  spring (around April) and the larva is the first of three stages in its life.  This larva only has six legs, doesn’t climb very high, and will wait for up to two months for a host.  They prefer mice, rabbits, squirrels but will attach to dogs, cats, deer and humans.  A small portion will then move to the second phase.

They detach, molt and become what is known as a nymph.  The process takes about two months, which I believe is one of the reasons we have two “tick seasons” around here.  This sexless, eight legged, blood sucker will climb a little higher on grass and bushes, and again seek a host, albeit a larger one.  Again they will drop off and molt.

We can thank our lucky stars only a small portion of ticks survive these two phases to adulthood.  While adults they seek hosts like deer and bear, and of course the occasional accidental human.  This is also the time they breed.  Both a male and a female must be attached to the same host (another obstacle we can be thankful for).  Once the female is impregnated she will drop to the ground, lay her 3000 or so eggs and then die.  The eggs will hatch the following Spring and the cycle begins again.

ALL species of ticks carry Lyme Disease.  That’s right ALL of them (and there are hundreds).  And whether they have bitten you for an hour or two days, the disease might have transferred.  And then again it might not.  And then of course, if you have it you might not have any symptoms, or you might. The symptoms include;

* Headache
* Flu-like symptoms
* Spreading “bull’s-eye” rash from the tick bite
* Swelling and pain in the joints

As I said, I’ve lived around ticks my entire life.  And I don’t think I’ve ever been bitten (of course I am very careful and try to avoid them.  When I’ve been walking in the fields or bushes, I am sure to check very thoroughly for them before I go in the car or house) and my brother (who is 33) was just bitten for the first time this year.  But one of my friends has been bitten a dozen or so times this year alone.  And so far (symptoms take about 10 days to occur) no Lyme Disease.

So, ticks are prolific and may carry Lyme Disease, which you may or may not get  (and let’s not even talk about all the other diseases they may carry…).  And the best advice I can give, avoid at all costs.  But you know, if you live in the country, and like to walk in the woods and fields, you must accept the chance encounter with a nasty little neighbor (and a few dozen of his closest relatives).   Just give yourself a thorough once over to be sure they aren’t staying for dinner.

Sincerely *ahem*… Stephanie.