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Deer Tick

Deer Tick, Vancouver Island, BC
Deer Tick, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Robert Logan

Deer ticks are members of the Arachnid family and are found in Island forests and open fields. They typically climb to the top of grass stocks and will hitch a ride on your clothing, as you rub past these grasses.

The deer tick can sometimes transmit a bacteria which causes Lyme disease – a serious human disorder. It starts out with flu-like symptoms, and if not treated, can develop into conditions similar to those of rheumatoid arthritis. If you are bitten by a deer tick and experience flu-like symptoms soon afterward, I would recommend that you see a doctor.

Adult deer ticks are quite small. Males are black, and females have a dull red abdomen, & a black shield near the head. Females swell to 1/4 cm when fully engorged after feeding, then change color to grayish-green. Adults are found primarily from September through November, and again in March and April. Adults feed mainly on deer, but will also bite dogs, cats, humans, and farm animals. Humans are not their preferred host – usually, they’re just accidental hosts.

When l was a boy, back in the ’60s, l had 7 of these critters attached to my neck and had to have them burned out.

Deer ticks have 3 life stages: larva, nymph, and adult. Each stage requires a different host animal. During each stage, a tick feeds only once. Deer ticks complete their life cycle in 2 years. The larvae are tan and very small, about the size of a pinhead. They feed in late summer on small animals like mice and voles. Newly hatched deer ticks are not born with Lyme disease but get it from an infected animal. Nymphs are the size of a poppy seed. They are beige or slightly transparent with a dark head. Nymphs feed from May through August on larger animals, including birds, raccoons, opossum, squirrels, cats, dogs, and human beings.

The risk of being bitten by a deer tick infected with Lyme disease is greatest in the summer months of June and July when the nymph stage is active. This is the time of year when people as well, are most active outdoors. Make a habit of thoroughly checking yourself and others for deer tick nymphs, after spending time outdoors. In the fall, the adults are active, so keep an eye out after going outdoors, when hunting or mushroom harvesting.

After finding a tick that has bitten you, watch for: headaches, flu-like symptoms, swelling & joint pain, or a nasty, spreading rash around the bite. if these symptoms appear, consult a physician right away. Be aware, though, that while thousands of people are bitten every year, only about 60 cases of Lyme disease occur annually in BC. Ticks must be attached to you for at least 24 hours in order for them to infect you with Lyme disease. The sooner you remove them, the less your chance of getting the disease.

To remove feeding ticks, use tweezers to grab the tick’s head as close to the skin as you can, and pull it up slowly and firmly. Disinfect the bite afterward with an antiseptic like rubbing alcohol or peroxide.

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