Now that spring is finally here and folks are venturing outdoors again, there is a certain insect that everyone should be aware of: the deer tick. Turkey hunters and anglers are especially vulnerable because they hunt and fish in ideal deer tick habitat. Sitting in the woods with your back against a tree or wading through streamside brush makes both of these outdoor enthusiasts a prime candidate for an encounter with deer ticks.
The deer tick is a tiny hard-bodied insect that can be found throughout the East and northern states of the Midwest. Not much bigger than a pinhead, it is a carrier of several diseases that can infect animals and humans alike, including Lyme disease. Whitetail deer are the primary hosts of this infectious parasite—hence the name—but it is also commonly found on mice, black bears, and wild birds, including turkeys.
Deer ticks are bloodsuckers and like mosquitoes, only the female deer tick bites and parasitizes. She has a two-year life cycle during which she goes through three stages of development—larva, nymph, and adult—ingesting a blood meal before maturing to the next stage. The female tick attaches to a host and drinks its blood for a period of four to five days. Once engorged, the tick drops off and spends the winter hidden underneath leaf litter on the ground. The following spring she’ll lay between a hundred and a thousand eggs or more in clusters. Ticks are hardy creatures and can even survive a severe frost.
Deer ticks cannot fly or jump but instead attach themselves to any passing host by grabbing ahold with their forelegs. Once onboard, the tick can crawl to a convenient point of attachment including the human scalp. It takes about 24 hours for a tick to attach and begin feeding, which gives a person a little time to do a thorough search after coming in from any outdoor activity. When found early enough, a tick can be easily removed. Once its head becomes embedded into the skin, it’s a bit more difficult.
There are several things that you can do to keep deer ticks at bay. Whenever I’m photographing in the woods, I tuck my pants into long socks and wear knee-high rubber boots. I also wear long sleeve shirts and keep them tightly buttoned. I treat exposed skin with an insect repellent that contains Deet, which will help to prevent blackfly and mosquito bites as well. Before getting back into my vehicle, I completely brush off my clothing and shake off my hat to remove any hitchhikers.
An article in the April 2017 issue of American Hunter magazine says there’s a better way to remove an attached tick than by pulling it off and describes the following 3-step procedure:
1. Wet the tip of a cotton swap so it will glide smoothly over your skin.
2. While applying light pressure to one side of the tick’s body with the swab tip, gently push the tick in circles around the point where its mouth is anchored to your skin. You’re essentially trying to “spin” the tick on its axis. Don’t push down on the tick, and be gentle, as you don’t want to twist the tick’s body from its head. After several rotations, the tick will back out, head and body intact.
3. Destroy the tick and wash the area around the bite with rubbing alcohol, iodine, or soap and water.