A wet fall and spring means a large tick population

  • A female black-legged tick, one of only two types in New Hampshire which carry Lyme disease. Courtesy photo—

  • The tick most people are concerned with is the black-legged tick, which can carry Lyme disease and other pathogens. Courtesy Photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/25/2019 11:32:34 AM

A winter of insulating snow followed by a wet spring is good news for ticks and bad news for people.

The tick most people are concerned with is the black-legged tick, which can carry Lyme disease and other pathogens.

“This is ideal tick time,” said Alan Eaton, an entomologist specializing in tick populations.

Eaton is a retired professor of the UNH Cooperative Extension. For years he led a project studying the prevalence of the black-legged tick in New Hampshire.

“Right now, the temperature is getting up to 60 degrees, and it’s starting,” Eaton said of the tick season. “Yesterday when I was doing some yard work, I pulled a specimen off me, so they’re already active.”

Currently, Eaton said, people should be looking for adult ticks which survived over the winter. Ticks will begin to breed in the spring, and the eggs will hatch in mid-May. Newly hatched ticks, called nymphs, are much smaller – about the size of a pinhead – but are still capable of biting and carrying pathogens such as Lyme, Eaton said. The nymphs will grow into adulthood throughout the summer.

“This is the time to begin your defenses, but redouble your efforts in mid-May so you don’t end up sick,” Eaton said.

Last year, New Hampshire’s rodent population boomed, after a 2017 bump in acorns, a phenomenon known as “masting.” Rodents, particularly white-footed mice, are a host for ticks. Eaton said as the rodent and deer population rises and falls, typically so do reported cases of Lyme Disease.

“Lyme disease diagnosis peaks in mast years, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a bump in cases last year,” Eaton said.

However, Eaton said, this year, because oak trees will have usually one large acorn crop every few years, the rodent population should be returning to normal levels after last year’s population bump, as should the level of the parasites they carry. But the weather conditions are still ripe to furnish a healthy population.

“I guess you would say it’s a good year for ticks – or a bad one if you’re looking from the human perspective,” Eaton said.

The best way to avoid being bitten, University of New Hampshire entomologist Don Chandler said, is to avoid wooded or brush areas.

After mid-June, the most common ticks seen are dog ticks, Chandler said. They do not carry Lyme disease.

Black-legged ticks are generally picked up by humans on their legs or waist because they live in brush or on trees. Dog ticks are mainly found in grass, and are usually picked up on the lower legs or ankles, Chandler said.

Many people associate tick bites with the spread of Lyme disease, but there are several other diseases spread by the black-legged tick.

Anaplasmosis is spread by black-legged ticks from infected deer and rodents. It was confirmed in 2007 that ticks in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties are carriers for the bacteria.

Anaplasmosis creates flu-like symptoms and is treatable with antibiotics.

There have also been a small but growing amount of cases of babesiosis, a disease mainly carried by white-footed mice and transmitted by the black-legged tick, found in New Hampshire.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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