Exploring outdoors is a fun way to stay active, engaged and curious about local wildlife and ecology. Camping, hiking, fishing, or even just walking along trails can provide a person with exercise and mental stimulation, but it is also important to be aware of the potential dangers of outdoor exploration. We have addressed safe hiking practices, and wildlife awareness here on the blog, but there is one more topic that needs to be discussed: ticks.
Like spiders, ticks are arachnids. They have eight legs, and they are often misunderstood and mistaken as scary or dangerous. Ticks get this reputation because of their food choice, which is blood. Ticks only feed three times in their two-year lifespan; during metamorphosis from larva to nymph, from nymph to adult, and as adults to lay eggs. They will generally feed on small rodents like squirrels and mice, but as adults they find larger food sources like deer, horses, and humans. Ticks are also known to transmit Lyme disease, a debilitating illness that sometimes causes facial paralysis and inhibits brain function.
A normal tick bite is not usually dangerous to humans, and at the worst may cause itchiness and irritation. Most of the tick species found here in California are not known for passing harmful bacteria to humans, but it is still a good idea to be informed about possible dangers. Deer ticks (also known as black legged ticks), which carry and transmit Lyme disease, are rarely found in California, and are much more common in the eastern United States. However, the Western black legged tick is one that does occupy our region, and can transmit Lyme disease. These ticks like to hang out in moist or humid regions because it is a good environment for metamorphosis. Coastal and sierra foothills are popular breeding grounds for these arachnids, and if you plan to explore these areas it is a good idea to know about tick bite prevention and treatment.
A tick bite feels like a sting, or pinch, and is sometimes so subtle that it goes unnoticed. The bite of a Pajahuello tick, which is commonly found in our area, can be quite a bit more painful because its bite causes an inflammatory response in humans. However, this tick is not known to cause Lyme disease. If you are bitten by a tick, there are numerous ways in which you can remove the tick from your body, but the safest way is to pull it off with tweezers. Here is a helpful web page which explains how to effectively remove a tick: http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html.
After spending time outdoors, it is always a good idea to do a ‘tick check.’ Check all areas of your body for signs of a tick. They like to hang out in warm areas like your underarms or around your ankles if you are wearing socks. Don’t forget to check your hair! It is important to check for and remove ticks soon after your outdoor adventure because if left unchecked, there is a greater risk of contracting Lyme disease. A tick must be present on the body for a period of twenty-four hours in order to transmit the disease, so it is best to remove the tick before that time in order to minimize risks. If you notice a ring or bullseye around the bite site, you should see a doctor.
In order to prevent tick bites in the first place, it is a good idea to wear long sleeves and long pants when spending time in the wilderness. Stay on the trails and don’t stomp through leaves or grasses, as these are the areas where ticks lay their eggs.You may also want to apply insect repellent to your skin or clothing to keep ticks away. Another way these arachnids sometimes find their way to you is by attaching to your backpack, clothing, or pets. Make sure to check thoroughly before bringing all of your stuff indoors.
Keep yourself prepared and informed about ticks, and you will feel much more confident in your outdoor exploration. You will also know what to do in the event of a tick bite if it occurs on you or a member of your family.
Ticks. Center for Disease Control and prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/. (Accessed 3/25/14)
Ticks Commonly Encountered in California. http://www.lawestvector.org/Ticks%20Common%20to%20California.htm. (Accessed 3/25/14)