Summertime in Southern Louisiana means bright, warm days perfect for hiking, exploring and playing in the great outdoors. More time spent in nature also means more time spent brushing up against bothersome and dangerous pests. At the top of this list is the tick, which you’ll often run into in wooded areas or patches of tall grass. This miniature menace does more than just suck blood - it carries serious diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountains spotted fever. To make sure you’re prepared to deal with ticks, read up on common knowledge - and some less common knowledge - about these pests and keep your local Baton Rouge pest control services in mind, just in case
A Tick Isn’t an Insect
You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, but ticks aren’t classified as insects - rather, they’re arachnids, relatives of spiders, scorpions and mites. They have the familiar arachnid body structure: a two-segment body featuring a head and an abdomen with no thorax, eight legs rather than six, and a lack of antennae and wings. The last part is most significant because it affects how a tick finds a host. Unable to jump or fly, a tick performs what is called “questing”; it climbs up foliage or blades of grass, holding on with its back two pairs of legs while reaching out with the front legs to grab onto an unaware host that passes by.
A Tick Is a Slow Feeder
Mosquitos, another familiar bloodsucking bug, are in and out in a matter of minutes, and you often won’t realize you’ve been bitten until they’re already gone and the bite starts to swell and itch. Ticks, however, take their time. After hitching a ride on a host, a tick will search for a good spot to feed, often on a section of thin skin with small blood vessels just beneath it. Even after finding this spot, the tick may take up to two hours to settle in and make sure it’s firmly attached before it begins, burrowing its head into the skin and spitting up a mixture of chemicals that numb the skin and deter the immune system while also thinning the blood to prevent clotting while it feeds. The tick will feed for two to three days if uninterrupted, and it is possible to find and remove it in this time. Females will swell up with excess blood gathered for egg laying, which can make them particularly noticeable.
Not Ever Tick Carries Human Diseases
Among the 850 or so tick species identified, only a relatively small handful exist that bite humans and also act as carriers for human diseases. In Louisiana, you can expect a few particular species: blacklegged, Gulf Coast, Lone Star, American dog and brown dog ticks. The blacklegged tick prefers reptiles, the Gulf Coast tick is partial to birds and deer, and the brown dog tick is more likely to take a bite out of your dog than you. Lone Star and American dog ticks, are the major dangers to humans, with the former causing ehrlichiosis and Southern Tick Associated Rash Infection (STARI), and the latter spreading Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The American dog tick, uniquely, can inflict a disease called tick paralysis, caused by a neurotoxin rather than an infection. Thankfully, Lyme disease, the most well-known tick-born disease, is rare in Louisiana.
Tick Bites Don’t Immediately Transmit Disease
Ticks carry and transmit various infectious microbes by their feeding habits. A tick may pick up a disease from an infected animal that it feeds on, and the microbes will linger within it. When it finds a new host later, the microbes can enter the bloodstream when the tick injects its feeding tube, either entering through the blood-thinning saliva or if the tick spits up remnants of a prior meal.
However, between the mechanisms of transmission and the tick’s patient feeding habits, there is an upside in that infection isn’t guaranteed from the moment a tick bites you. According to the CDC, finding and removing a tick within 24 hours can minimize the risk of contracting most tick-borne diseases. Making tick checks a regular habit after outdoor adventures can be a significant factor in keeping yourself safe.
Tweezers Can Remove a Tick Better Than Other Home Remedies
If you find a tick, don’t panic and try to yank it off or squish it. They can be resilient little bugs, and the barbed mouthpiece can hurt quite a bit and tear the skin when suddenly removed, but more importantly, removing or killing a tick in this way can magnify the chance of infection as the tick reflexively spits up into your bloodstream. Instead, use a pair of tweezers to remove the tick; grasp as close to the skin as possible and carefully, steadily pull upward and away from the skin to dislodge the tick. The head may come off and stay in the skin, but at this point the tick is dead and the mouthpiece will come free on its own. Clean the area with soap and water or an alcohol rub afterward. You can keep the tick in a small sealed bag if you want to consult a doctor and have them ID it to determine the risk of infection.
The internet provides numerous other remedies and suggestions for removing a tick, typically focusing on suffocation by covering it with a layer of nail polish, petroleum jelly, gasoline or 70-percent isopropyl alcohol. However, ticks are adapted to long feeding periods, and this includes being able to survive without air for a while.
You Can Prevent Ticks With Some Precautions
Keep in mind when you’re planning a hike or trip the likelihood of running across ticks. If your destination is in tick territory, minimize bare skin that a tick can latch onto by tucking your jeans into your socks or boots. Insecticides and insect repellants can work on ticks despite their status as arachnids. A repellent with at least 20 percent DEET is recommended and can be found in common spray forms for direct skin application or via clothing treatments. Even with these precautions, regular tick checks during and after the expedition are vital. If you suspect you or your dog may have taken a tick home, pest control services can help screen your home and remove these pests if necessary.
Southern Louisiana, with its warm, subtropical climate, is a favorite spot for vacationers. It is also a prime destination for insects. They thrive in the moist climate, and the topography provides many places for them to live. Like humans, insects want to be left alone to find shelter, eat food, mate, and raise young. When the worlds of humans and insects collide, though, some biting and stinging bugs will defend themselves, however reluctantly. In certain cases, you may want to consider pest control services. In southern Louisiana, it is a good idea to ask this important question: Will it bite?
In short, yes. However, mosquitoes do not actually bite. Rather, female mosquitoes insert a straw-like mouthpart through and under your skin in order to feed. Your body instantly reacts to a substance the mosquito releases just beneath your skin, and your immune system kicks into action. It sends histamine, which makes blood vessels swell, causing the characteristic bumps you see after a close encounter with a mosquito. Nearby nerves become irritated from the swollen vessels, resulting in an itching sensation.
Not likely. In general, termites feast upon wood rather than humans. Soldier termites, though, can become biting bugs if they feel they are under attack. Therefore, bites from these termites only happen when they are severely threatened. This is a case where it is best to leave these insects alone and hire professional for termite pest control.
Yes. After a tick gets on your body, it generally settles in your hair, armpit, or groin. It will get comfortable and begin to take in blood, growing larger as it feeds. The tick may gorge for days, or in some cases weeks, before releasing its hold and falling off. Once attached, ticks do not roam around, nor does one tick make multiple bites. The best way to know if you have received a bite from a tick is to search your body. Ticks are generally harmless, but they can pose a danger to those who are allergic to them. Some ticks also carry viruses that can cause debilitating illnesses.
Unlikely. Spiders are not aggressive bugs. They only bite when they are feeling threatened. In fact, they do not want to have contact with you any more than you want to with them, and they will only bite in cases of accidental contact, such as a human reaching into a nook where a spider is hiding. Most spiders’ fangs cannot penetrate human skin. More sensitive individuals could sometimes experience localized swelling, redness, and pain should a bite occur when there is inadvertent contact (during the night while sleeping, for example), but many humans would not even notice a bite.
There are more than 3,000 species of spiders throughout the United States, with only three of these considered dangerous to humans. All three of those species are found in Louisiana:
The best rule to avoid these bugs is to look before sticking your hand anywhere. Pay attention to your surroundings. One of the names says it all: recluse. These spiders want to find quiet places, and they only bite if they feel severely threatened. Leave them alone, and they are more than happy to return the favor.
Probably not. So-called stink bugs are vegetable and fruit eaters, and they usually do not bother humans. Like other insects such as termites, they only bite if they feel severely threatened.
Not likely. Cockroaches are generally not biting bugs. They may bite humans only in cases of severe food depletion, and even then they only target people who are sedentary.
Yes. Ants do bite. However, each species has its own type of “attack.” Sugar ants sometimes bite humans in defense, but their bites usually do not cause pain. Carpenter ants, however, can inflict painful bites if they are feeling threatened. Fire ants also bite, but it is their sting that has become infamous. They bite in order to grip their prey securely, then begin to sting. Fire ants can build huge mounds from which they swarm out if disturbed. They have been known to harm and even kill livestock.
No. Bees are not biting bugs but rather stinging insects. Female bees are the ones that can sting. When a honeybee stings, however, it pays the ultimate price: Its stinger becomes embedded in the human’s skin, and the bee dies. Queen bees retain their stingers and can sting multiple times, but they seldom venture out in the open and encountering one is not likely.
Bumblebees are not hostile. When a female bumblebee feels severely threatened, though, it will caution you up to three times before stinging by raising and then straightening its middle legs and displaying its stinger. If you see this, back away from the bee, and it will not bother you. If a bumblebee is driven to sting, it retains its stinger and so does not die.
No. Like bees, wasps are not biting bugs; they sting. Only the females attack humans, and their stingers do not detach, allowing them to sting multiple times during an assault. Like most insects, they become violent only to defend themselves when they feel they are in danger. They will not bite humans, but they can bite prey or objects when building a nest.
No, but some sting. For example, the large American Dagger Moth is safe enough, but its caterpillars are bristly and will give anyone who gets too close an uncomfortable sting. Generally, if in doubt, do not touch.
Insect Etiquette 101
Just like humans, insects in southern Louisiana want to feel safe while they go about their daily activities. Most biting bugs and stinging insects are not aggressive in themselves, as long as you respect their spaces and do not provoke them. In some cases, however, such as termite infestations, you may want to engage pest control professionals to prevent costly damage to your home or business. Other species, such as mosquitoes and ticks, feed on blood and will seek you out. A good rule is to leave insects alone and show consideration for their habitats, and teach children to do the same. The best way to coexist with insects is to carefully look but do not touch, and chances are they will not harm you.
I really enjoy researching and writing about pests. The more we know about bugs, the easier it becomes to control them.