By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum
I went walking through a grassy field today and afterward felt like I was covered in ticks. Every single one of them was a wood tick, which I would prefer to a deer tick any day. A few moments later, the ticks were nothing compared to the mosquitoes. Still, wood ticks are a part of our northwoods life. We walk through our yards and find them on our pants afterward. We dedicate moments at events to tick races. We have wood tick festivals that include music, cook-offs and other events dedicated to fun in the northwoods in spite of the ticks.
Many people think that ticks are insects, but with their eight legs they actually belong to the spider/arachnid family. All ticks begin life as an egg, and after hatching, the larva is called a seed tick, and it feeds on a small mouse or bird. The larval tick then develops into a larger nymph. This tick then feeds on a host and molts into an even larger adult. Finally, male and female adults feed on a host such as raccoons, dogs, or other large mammals, and the males often look for the female while on the host. Then the females lay up to 5,000 eggs after their last feeding.
When latching on to their host with their two-part mouth, they use saliva to create a cement-like connection. They use their mouthpart to cut a hole in the epidermis, or top layer of skin. Ticks excrete an anticoagulant to keep the blood from clotting. They have adapted quite well to feed on their hosts!
For the many who believe that ticks jump from trees, this is actually a myth. Ticks actually wait for their host animals from the tips of taller grasses and shrubs. With eight legs, they use the back two legs to hold on to a piece of grass. The front six legs are then used as seekers to continue sensing their next “dinner.” Ticks sense heat and carbon dioxide from their host, so when brushed by a moving animal or person, they quickly let go of the vegetation and climb onto the host. Ticks can only crawl, not fly or jump. Any ticks that have been found on our scalps crawled there from our lower body parts. Some species of ticks will crawl several feet toward a host. A study in northern California states that if a human sits on a log for five minutes, they have a 30% chance of having a tick crawl on to their body. Although most spiders and insects are not active until the temperatures reach about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, ticks can be active at a much cooler 45 degrees.
The best method to remove a tick is to try to use tweezers to flip the tick’s body so that it is almost upside down, and then pull straight up to try and remove the tick. Doctors recommend great caution in trying NOT to squeeze the tick, as any diseases that may exist in the tick can actually be squeezed back into our bodies. The best prevention is to regularly check our bodies for ticks, and when outdoors, put our socks up over our pant legs, and wear lighter-colored clothing (it is believed that darker colors more closely resemble that of darker-furred animals so common in our northwoods environment.)
For over 43 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. The new exhibit, The Joy of Birds: Feathers in Focus opens in May, 2011. Find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Also discover us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org, on Facebook, or at our blogspot, http://cablemuseumnaturewatch.blogspot.com/ to learn more about our exhibits and programs.