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Nature Notebook – Tick Season

Agh!! It’s tick season again! Well, technically, it’s always tick season but now that we can go outside, we are more aware of them…and the diseases they can carry.

You won’t have to go far to pick up a hitchhiker. The CDC has reported that “three-quarters of Lyme disease cases diagnosed annually are caused by ticks from residential properties.”

Those tick nymphs (the second of the three life stages) feed on the chipmunks and white-footed mice that are common in yards. These rodents are frequently asymptomatically infected with the Lyme bacterium. The bacterium passes into the tick as it feeds on the rodent.

This is when a tick is most dangerous to humans. Because they are so tiny (size of a poppy seed), a tick nymph that then attaches to a human is unnoticeable. An infected tick has plenty of time to feed and, consequently, pass the bacterium to the human.

Getting rid of chipmunks and mice is impossible and not particularly ecofriendly. However, the animals can kill ticks in their early larval stage by using homeowner-provided permethrin-treated nesting material. The University of Rhode Island’s website www.tickencounter.org/prevention/mouse_targeted_devices has more information.