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Bug O' the Month Club: Ticks

Posted on May 29, 2020

Wow! It’s finally been feeling like summer this past week. It seems like we’ve been waiting for warm, sunny days for a long, long time. But as with almost all good things, there are downsides. Here in Michigan, a big one that comes along with summertime is bugs. Oh, so many buuuuuugggggs. So let’s talk about them… what they do, where and when they can be found, and how to protect yourself and/or your garden from them. We’ll pick a different bug every few weeks to discuss. This week, it’s Tick Time!

Due to the unseasonably mild and wet winter, experts predicted that we would have a bad tick season this year. Of particular concern is the black-legged (deer) tick, which has seen a population increase in western Michigan over the last several years. Unfortunately, the deer tick is the type that carries Lyme Disease.

There are five different kinds of ticks found in Michigan. Here’s a good resource from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to help identify them. As you can see, the tick you’ll most want to avoid latching onto you, the black-legged tick, is also the smallest… smaller than a sesame seed. For an idea of just how small these guys can be, check out this horrifying 2018 tweet from the CDC. Lemon poppyseed muffin, anyone?

So what should we do to protect ourselves? Use bug repellent that contains at least 20% DEET on any exposed skin and around your pant legs when you go outside. Make sure your pets have been treated with the appropriate flea and tick preventative as well. There is also a Lyme vaccine available for dogs that you can discuss with your veterinarian… but this should not be considered a replacement for preventative applications, just an additional layer of protection.

Though tick habitat is generally in brushy and wooded areas, you’ll find them in your backyard too. If you have been out in an area where you think there are ticks, do a thorough check of yourself, your kids and your pets when you come inside. The sooner the better, so you can get them while they are still crawling around and not yet attached. Ticks will ride along on clothing and gear too. Toss your clothes in the dryer on high heat for an hour to ensure you've killed them. If you do find one that has attached, remove it with a pair of tweezers, grasping it near the head and GENTLY pulling it off. Finally, if you notice signs of Lyme Disease, which include flu-like symptoms and the tell-tale “bulls-eye” rash at the bite site, see your doctor right away.

All this said, ticks should not keep you from getting outside and hiking all the lovely trails found in the area! Just be sure you are taking the appropriate precautions.