Kurt Broz, Pala’s wildlife biologist, has first-hand experience with ticks. Here is his list of helpful information and advice to help you learn about and avoid these tiny pests.
Ticks are out in full force this year. Unfortunately, much of the information being passed around on disease and prevention is incomplete or false. Check out these fast facts about ticks to help you and your pets stay safe during summer fun.
- California has a few tick species. The two species most often encountered are the dog tick and the black-legged tick.
- Several diseases can be passed by ticks. The most common ones seen in California are Lyme disease, relapsing fever, tularemia, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
- Lyme disease is likely only passed on by black-legged ticks in California, not the larger dog ticks.
- None of the home or herbal remedies designed to repel ticks seem to work – including vinegar, eucalyptus, and essential oils. I’ve personally seen ticks questing (looking for hosts) on eucalyptus, sage, and other highly aromatic plants. I’ve also seen people using these home remedies being bitten by ticks.
- Why don’t they work? Ticks don’t just rely on scent to find you or your dog. They can find hosts through vibrations, moisture, your exhaled breath (CO2), and heat. It doesn’t matter what you smell like.
- Insect repellents that contain DEET work, but are probably not 100% effective.
- Permethrin absolutely works to repel ticks, and I’ve used it successfully. It is a spray that can be applied to clothing and affects the nervous system of ticks and other invertebrates but is perfectly safe for humans and dogs. Don’t spray it directly on your skin, but rather on clothing and let it dry before wearing. It is safe around birds and dogs – don’t spray it directly on your dog – but is NOT safe around cats or aquatic animals like fish. Ticks that do attempt to cling to your clothes will fall off quickly, damaged by the insecticide.
- HOW TO REMOVE A TICK: Don’t burn them, smother them, or anything other than just pulling them out. The safest, most effective way to remove a tick is to pull them out using tweezers. Get as close to the front of the tick near your skin as you can and yank straight out. Clean the bite with soap, water, and any topical disinfectants you want.
- WHAT TO DO IF I’M BITTEN: Watch the area around the bite for strange marks or an allergic reaction. If you have any concern, see a doctor.
- DON’T PANIC! Most diseases, like Lyme disease, of major concern spread by ticks, need an incubation period for the transmission. A tick generally needs to have bitten you for many hours for the disease to cross from the tick to you. For Lyme disease, a tick probably needs to be biting you for 24 hours to pass on the disease. I’ve had to pull way too many ticks off of me after hiking and have never gotten sick from a tick.
- You can also help prevent ticks around your home. Ticks can also bite other mammals like rodents, so keeping your yard free of trash that might attract rodents is helpful. Snakes, predatory birds, bobcats, and coyotes all help control rodents. Also, making your yard friendly to small animals like birds and lizards that eat ticks can help keep your family safe. Keep grasses mowed or removed from your yard as ticks often congregate in grasses to wait for new hosts.
Though ticks may seem gross, they are a natural part of our ecosystems. The best way to stay safe during tick season is to stay vigilant. If you hike or work in the yard, check yourself after you get back. Ticks like to bite in hard to reach areas, like under a belt, beneath some hair, or on the back. If your dogs are outside, be sure to check them too! Ticks love to bite around the ears and under collars. Just don’t let ticks ruin your fun!