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.
I really enjoy researching and writing about pests. The more we know about bugs, the easier it becomes to control them.