In Volusia County, summer brings with it sunny days, cool(ish) breezes, salty hair, and sticky skin.
Unfortunately, sometimes a few not-so-fun things like ticks come hand-in-hand with the warmer months—which in Florida means most of the year! Ticks are so common around here that it can be easy to stop taking them seriously, but this is a mistake.
How much do you really know about ticks? More importantly, do you know how you can keep yourself and your family safe from their surprisingly dangerous bites?
What are Ticks and Where Do They Live?
Ticks are classed as arachnids (yep, like spiders), but they may as well be vampires since they require the blood of mammals, reptiles, and birds to survive. Yikes.
Most ticks have a unique dorsal “armor” and an easily visible mouthpart, but the color, shape, adornment, and size varies for each species. Some are large, and others are hardly visible to the naked eye.
Colonies of these little terrors often live in timbered or lush spots, where squirrels, raccoons, and other stray animals can be fed on. However, they also survive perfectly well in inhabited areas, where domestic animals and humans can provide them with the nutrition they need to keep movin’ and groovin’. These kind bodies are known as hosts.
Are Ticks Dangerous?
People or animals often don’t feel the bite of a tick, because these pests possess tiny anesthetic particles in their saliva, which allow them to bite and take hold undetected. The feeding process can go on for many days, during which blood diseases can be passed between host and tick.
To establish a connection, the tick migrates to an area of the body with thin skin and punctures the surface. A feeding tube uses a sticky secretion or little bristles to stay attached to the host.
The biggest danger associated with ticks is Lyme disease. A whopping 30,000 instances of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC each year, but the actual diagnoses number is closer to 300,000.
Common symptoms include high fever, severe exhaustion, and nasty skin rashes. If not addressed quickly, Lyme disease can lead to serious heart conditions. Fortunately, a strong course of antibiotics can quickly clear up most cases of Lyme disease.
Other diseases that can be transmitted by ticks in the southeastern US specifically include tularemia, STARI, rickettsiosis, Heartland virus, and ehrlichiosis. Most of these illnesses affect pets as well as humans.
How Do Ticks Find Their Hosts?
Hosts are living organisms that ticks live on and feed from. Ticks locate hosts by sensing their body heat, vibrations, or scent. They hide in plants or bushes, waiting for hosts to pass by.
Fortunately, ticks are unable to jump or fly (what a horrid nightmare that would be), but several species perform “questing.” Questing is when a tick uses its third and fourth legs to clutch onto leaves and bushes and extends their other legs to latch onto a passing host. These little critters might attach to the host’s skin immediately, or roam around searching for sensitive, thin-skinned spots like ears, armpits, and the groin area.
How to Prevent Ticks on Your Property
• Rake up and dispose of fallen leaves and dead plant matter.
• Ensure that areas where you and your pets spend time are clean and neat.
• A fence or other barrier should be between your yard and any heavily wooded spots to deter wandering ticks.
• Mow your lawn often.
• Wood or log piles should be in dry places that will discourage rodents from entering, which will in turn hinder the onset of ticks.
• Keep any equipment stored outside clean and away from areas with long grass.
• Dispose of garbage.
• Do not engage with wildlife like squirrels and raccoons, and don’t let your pets hang out with them either.
To prevent ticks on your pets, it’s essential to use a good tick preventative consistently. Talk to your pet about the best option for your animal. Like flea preventative, this is a critical component of pet care for any responsible owner and should not be ignored.
There are several heavy-duty chemical sprays you can use to prevent ticks on your person when tromping through the woods. However, if you prefer a natural alternative, there are several scents that ticks abhor.
Orange, cinnamon, peppermint, and lavender are scents that seem to deter ticks from clamping on to an unsuspecting host. Just mix a few drops of these essential oils with a carrier oil and rub the solution on your skin.
What to Do if You Spot a Tick on Yourself or Your Pet
Here’s what to do if you find one of these nasty little critters on you or your pet:
- The tick should be extracted from the skin using flat edged tweezers. It’s crucial to get the tweezer tips as close to your skin as possible to ensure the whole tick is scooped up.
- Ease the tick out. Avoid pulling or tugging.
- To prevent further infection, avoid touching it with your bare hands.
- Next, place the tick in an enclosed container, as a medical practitioner might need to identify the species.
- Thoroughly cleanse the affected area with rubbing alcohol or warm soapy water.
- If symptoms of Lyme disease start presenting, consult your doctor or vet immediately.
Ticks may be commonplace, but they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Take the appropriate measures to keep your pets and your family free from their bloody bite.
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
Universal: Honest, Environmentally Friendly Pest Control