How Not to be Bothered by Ticks

The reason many people give for not visiting our awesomely beautiful woods is because they are afraid of ticks.  To visit the woods, take the following precautions, the beauty you experience will make you happy that you did.

If you are alert, you can keep from coming in contact with poison ivy, but ticks are so small they can easily grab a ride with the means of conveyance never being the wiser.  They can be a bit larger than a sesame seed or as small as a grain of pollen.  Some deer ticks and Lone Star ticks may carry diseases including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis and Erlichiosis.  You can greatly reduce the risk of contracting these diseases by preparing for your hike in advance.

For years, I have spent more time in the woods, than out.  I periodically test for Lyme Disease, and have never contracted it.  When I come home from the woods, I check my entire body for ticks.  They grab on anywhere from the shoe laces to mid thigh.  They then start traveling straight up, looking for a place to attach.  Looking for them and flicking them away has become almost an unconscious act.

These ticks usually contact a host by crawling up to the tips of low-growing vegetation and waiting with several legs reaching out, then grabbing onto a host that brushes by. While larvae are almost entirely dependent on this behavior, nymphs and adults may become stimulated by the warmth and carbon dioxide from a host spending considerable time in the area and will drop to the ground, find the host, and climb onto it. It has been my experience that DEET based insect repellents have a limited effect on ticks. Picardin is very safe to use on your skin and is great at protecting against mosquitoes and biting flies. For tick protection, use a repellent containing Permethrin and follow the directions.  The instructions on the aerosols or trigger sprays direct the user to apply the spray four hours prior to donning treated apparel.  Spray your socks, sneakers, and pants.  People with chemical allergies should seek medical advice regarding use of permethrin. Permethrin can be found in sporting goods stores like Dick’s, or hunting or camping retailers, or online.  Some people prefer to buy pre-treated clothing. This is understandable because the chemical is toxic before it dries, and it is imperative that you follow the directions for use very carefully. Take care not to spray it on your skin.  I have also read that the liquid is especially toxic to cats for some reason.

If you are caught unprepared, wiping with a rag and isopropyl alcohol will remove large numbers of larval ticks from untreated surfaces.  Some people use clear tape for removing ticks from clothing.  A lack of moisture in the air will kill ticks, so giving your clothes a spin in the dryer will kill them.  Before I learned to treat my sneakers inside and out, I’d put them back on days after wearing them in the woods, and then find bites on my feet and ankles.  Under the right conditions, ticks can survive over a year without a host.

Stay on paths and try not to brush against vegetation.  It is common to see ticks near the ends of high grass. Ticks cannot survive long exposure to the sun and are therefore typically found in shaded areas. The habitat must also contain both small animal hosts for larvae and large animal hosts for adult ticks. Inspect for ticks periodically.  If you see a tick on your clothing, pluck it off and flick it into the woods.  They are very “grabby” creatures so it takes a very determined flick to get them off your finger.  Immediately before re-entering your vehicle, check yourself and have someone check you for ticks.  To remove ticks that have attached, do NOT use petroleum jelly, a hot match, or other products.  Use fine-pointed tweezers to grasp the tick at the place of attachment, as close to the skin as possible without crushing the tick.  Gently pull the tick straight away from your body. According to the Center for Disease Control, if a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of contracting Lyme disease is extremely small.  I get an itchy red spot, even if the tick was only attached to the superficial layers of skin for a short time.

The larval ticks seem to be emerging earlier every year. The Lone Star larval ticks hatch in large numbers. The adult engorged Lone Star Tick lays egg masses averaging 3,000-5,000.  When they hatch, they cause hikers to have mysterious bumps that itch for weeks.  People have been calling them chiggers, because under a microscope you will see that they only have 6 legs like mites (chiggers are mites) unlike adult ticks that have 8 legs, but every sample I have sent to Suffolk County Vector Control has been identified as Lone Star ticks.  I picked them up with clear tape and applied the tape to a post card. To doctors the results of an encounter with larval ticks looks just like chiggers.

It took me a while to develop a method for dealing with ticks, but it has been 100{3711a1152d621d535ac86426fbd261d180ef2e7e025676eded4092ae9277b791} effective for me. Wear light colored long pants, and light colored shirt and socks.  I use women’s white knee-highs or slack socks over my socks from early Spring until the first frost. It has been my experience that smaller ticks easily travel through the thick weave of treated athletic socks.  Always tuck your pants into your socks, and your shirt into pants. Unfortunately, dressing like this may cause runners or mountain bikers to overheat. Loose fitting pants allows air circulation between body and cloth, keeping you cooler.

In late July, several years ago I treated my clothes as described above and started refreshing yellow blazes on a trail in Sarnoff.  The trail was nearly closed-in by blueberry and scrub oak even though several groups of volunteers had trimmed the trail back in the early spring.  As I walked through a portion of trail with high grass, I began to notice I was picking up splotches of red on my pants.  When I looked closely, I realized the splotches were comprised of hundreds of tiny, dust size individual creatures.  If my pants had been untreated, the larval ticks would have rapidly spread out looking for skin. After a short while, they would have become so spread out I wouldn’t have seen them.  If I took my pants off in the house, without first putting them in the dryer, they would have spread out, and hung around until they found a human or an animal. Unfortunately for them, they landed on treated pants.  They rapidly crawled on top of each other to avoid the permethrin-treated cloth and literally dripped off of my pants.  At one point my pants looked like they were splotched with red mud, but it all “dripped” off.  When I returned home there were hundreds of dead “specks” in my shoes, between layers of socks and in the outer creases of my clothing, but I didn’t get a single bite.  I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years, and during this time I have not had a single tick attach to me.

You pick up less ticks on maintained trails. Find out from your trails organization what trails they have recently maintained.

Southampton Trails Preservation Society

East Hampton Trails Preservation Society

The Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference

If you stay in the center of a well cut trail, you won’t pick up ticks. Often, a trail cut on either side will have a ribbon of grass in the middle.

A note to the trail crew: I find, when I maintain a trail, three passes with the mower, the last one in the middle of the trail is a prudent practice.

Kenneth Kindler