The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Courtesy photo.

Acorns as harbingers

When there is a bountiful crop of acorns in New Hampshire woods, which happens cyclically and unpredictably, it can be a useful way of predicting a boom in black-legged tick populations.
That’s because “acorns are the coin of the realm,” as Dave Anderson of the New Hampshire Forest Society puts it. Small mammals, including white-footed mice, eat the acorns, and their populations swell. Ticks rely on the mice as larvae, so the more mice we have, the more ticks we have by the multitudes. 
Anderson says foresters have already noted a huge white-footed mouse population that’s probably peaking right now. That’s because of a heavy “mast crop” of acorns in 2013 and 2014. Given the lag time for reproduction, we might expect 2017 to be a record year for ticks, especially the kind that carries Lyme disease.
How to fight back
If you’re returning from a trek in the woods, the first thing you should do is throw every article of clothing in the dryer and run it on high for an hour. Inspect every inch of your body and take a shower. If you find a tick attached, the CDC advises grabbing as close to the skin as possible with fine-tipped tweezers and pulling upward with steady pressure. Do not twist or jerk. If mouth parts remain on the skin, pull those off as well with the tweezers. Then, thoroughly clean the bite area with a sanitizer like rubbing alcohol, soap or an iodine scrub. To kill the tick, do not crush it in your fingers. Instead, drown it in alcohol in a sealed bag or container before disposing of it, or flush it down the toilet. The CDC also says to avoid “folklore remedies” like using heat to get a tick to let go. That doesn’t work and you could risk burning yourself. The effectiveness of painting a tick in nail polish or Vaseline is also a myth.

We’ve created a monster
Why tick populations are still booming in NH

By Ryan Lessard, Ryan Lessard

 Dr. Alan Eaton, an entomologist with the UNH Cooperative Extension, is on the hunt for BLTs. Not the sandwiches with bacon, lettuce and tomatoes — black-legged ticks. For the past 25 years, he’s seen first hand how they’ve spread and multiplied, and it’s we humans who have unwittingly armed them.

The end is nigh
We all know the inherent risks of being bitten by a black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick. 
Besides Lyme disease, ticks are also transmitting to humans an increasing amount of babesiosis (a microscopic parasite) and anaplasmosis (a bacterial disease). Both diseases are treatable and can occur without symptoms, but extreme cases of anaplasmosis can be fatal. Though cases are still rare, Eaton expects those numbers to continue to rise, due in part to a largely unchecked explosion in tick populations.
When Eaton first started counting ticks on deer and moose killed by hunters at check stations in 1991, the highest concentration of BLT-infested deer was 11 percent in Rockingham County, and five counties along the north and west of the state saw 0 percent.
“Even though we looked at hundreds in those five counties, not a single deer had black-legged ticks on them,” Eaton said.
They found .03 ticks per deer that year. But between more recent searches in 2013 and 2014, they found about 6 ticks per deer, and now every county has them.
Carroll County went from 0 to 100 percent, and in every county but Coos, black-legged ticks were found on the majority of deer checked.
And it’s not just the black-legged ticks that are spreading. Other tick species like the American dog tick and winter tick have also been on the rise. Those are not common disease vectors for humans to worry about but they can affect woodland creatures.
Recent studies performed on the state’s moose population are finding that winter ticks are having a devastating effect. 
“We can certainly say with respect to winter ticks, they’ve reached high enough levels now that the mortality of moose calves is scary. It’s ridiculously high,” Eaton said.
About 80 percent of the 36 moose calves tracked by researchers died from tick-related ailments in their first year this past winter and spring.
A female tick can lay up to 3,000 tiny eggs on the ground, with a new generation every two years. Ticks have no natural predators. Only some fungi, dry heat and unfriendly winters can prove worthy adversaries. 
The folly of man
The winter is normally a population control for ticks, but scientists say warming climates due to human-introduced greenhouse gases are giving ticks an advantage.
In addition to that, Eaton says changes we’ve made to the state’s forests have been even more helpful to the blood-sucking arachnids.  
Over the years, we’ve created more space for vegetation between what had previously been dense woodlands with rural and suburban housing developments. 
This way larval black-legged ticks can find small rodents and birds to feed on near homes with birdfeeders and places where white-footed mice hide, like stacks of firewood. And when the ticks get older they can easily move on to larger mammals like deer, which thrive in the nearby woodlands.
That, combined with an invasive plant known as Japanese barberry, which provides an ideal micro-climate for ticks, has proven tantamount to building a luxury tick resort and mailing them invitations.
“We’re the ones who have introduced it and we’re the ones who are changing the habitat for its common abundance,” Eaton said.
Eaton said that here in New Hampshire, we can be doing more to make sure we aren’t hosts.
“Too many of us do not take checking for ticks and anti-tick behavior serious enough,” Eaton said. 
He says checking for ticks daily is all that’s needed to prevent Lyme disease. The ticks need to feed for 36 to 48 hours before the disease is transmitted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Usually, the smaller, poppy-seed-sized nymphs are the perpetrators since adults are larger and easier to detect.
Right now, it’s nymph season, so he cautions folks to be extra careful and check out for helpful tips on controlling ticks. 

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