Importance of Natural Resources

Tickology: Tick Identification and Ecology


hi I’m Larry Dapsis I’m the entomologist
with Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and in this segment we’re going to look at
the basic identification characteristics for the three principal ticks that you
might encounter here on Cape Cod or for southeastern Massachusetts in general
first of all we have the good old American dog tick and for people in baby
boomer generation like myself tick identification was easy
this was the tick we grew up with there were no other ticks they we didn’t have
deer ticks or Lonestar or other things so this is kind of easy to identify even
though there are other species so on the far right that’s an adult male and they
have dark brown coloring and these creamy beige lines we don’t worry so
much about the male adult male ticks because they basically don’t feed it’s
these female ticks you don’t female so again she has this creamy bright wide
spot here and that makes it pretty easy to distinguish from other ticks this is
a new player on Cape Cod this is the Lone Star tick and the adult male on the
far left that’s pretty easy it’s makes basically all black that adult female
very characteristic that bright white spot on the middle of her back the other
way to distinguish these ticks from other ticks is that relative speed these
guys can run so one like the ticks were used to encountering the kind of slow
and lumber along these guys are like little racecars and this thing has been
moving northward for some time now a lot of ecologists including myself
think this is a function of climate change we’re seeing plants and animals
where we never used to see them before and up until say 2012 the northernmost
points of detected populations was really on the islands of nausia and
Cuttyhunk Martha’s Vineyard Nantucket but not year 2012 I was called out to
Sandy Neck beach park that’s a six mile long peninsula it’s basically a barrier
each and they were seeing some different kind of tick and they weren’t sure what
was going on here so I went out and looked and I found Lone Star tick from
one end of that place to the other so they basically own that piece of real
estate and so that’s just to me that it’s been on that Peninsula for some
time we don’t know how long and in fall of 2017 I was called out to West
Falmouth the shining sea bike trail I found another established population
out there so this thing has been found now in different parts of the Cape
it basically is quite happy here and we have a separate segment on Lone Star
tick then we’ll talk more about the ecological reasons for for their
presence now here’s the deer tick family portrait the proper name or more
accurate name for this tick is really the black legged tick and we’ll get to
some reasons for that in a minute on the far right that’s an adult female so
basically the head area is basically shiny black and the very characteristic
bright red abdomen again the males are very dark almost black and again we
don’t worry about the adult males now the immature stages the nymphs and the
larvae they’re kind of hard to identify by the naked eye if you have a very
small tick on you during the summer months just by virtue of population size
of deer ticks versus other ticks it’s likely to be a deer tick but the best
way to do is send it in for me to put it under a microscope and I can identify it
in a couple seconds now the relative size of these ticks is something we try
and give people in an analogy using bagel toppings just how large is an
adult stage deer tick how large is a nymph stage tick well that adult stage
tick they’re about the size of a sesame seed so they’re fairly large readily
seen but that nymph stage tick is the size of a poppy seed so something the
size of a poppy seed what eight legs a bad attitude and can plant you on your
behind for a long time now why the name deer tick is a misnomer this thing has
been documented to be associated with a hundred and twenty-five different ver
great host so it’s not just about deer it’s not just about mice this is a very
complex ecosystem there’s a lot of moving parts the rodents are very
important here the mice the chipmunks squirrels the rats they’re what we call
competent hosts and what we mean by competency is that these animals have
the ability to harbor the Lyme disease bacteria and transmit it back into the
tick population so it’s kind of like microbial ping-pong birds play a role in
a couple different ways we already talked about birds as you know being
able to move ticks around great distances but there are some birds that
are reservoir hosts this Lyme disease bacteria including songbirds like our
American Robin and our good old friend the wild turkey then we’ve got a bunch
creatures they’re incompetent hosts okay the deer the raccoons the coyotes they
cannot infect a tick okay that’s that’s a misunderstanding okay
it’s just bad information but what they can do is supply blood meal and keep
that tick population rolling along the winters okay I get calls from people all
the time including the media Larry we had a harsh winter what did that do to
the tick population and I tell them my answer is the same as last year in the
air before it did absolutely nothing and winners here in Cape Cod I really all
that harsh now it’s a matter of perspective when I worked in the
cranberry industry I spent 24 years traveling in Wisconsin we rose known by
the name Asia now Wisconsin has real winters 25 below zero for extended
periods of time is not all that unusual and Wisconsin deer ticks are very
healthy and Wisconsin’s quite endemic for Lyme disease and the reason for this
is very fascinating ticks synthesize a chemical called glycerol well what the
heck is cholesterol well these things make antifreeze
okay so ticks have adapted over millions of years they’ve seen it all they’ve
lived through the ice age and the way this glycerol works is it prevents ice
crystal formation and cell so if you have an ice crystal form in a
cell it punctures the cell wall whatever’s inside the cell leaks out of
the cell that’s not good and they also discovered that Lyme
disease bacteria feeds on the glycerol as a source of energy for itself so this
is one perfectly engineered little package quite fascinating from a
scientific standpoint tick habitat yeah tall grass especially if it’s under tree
canopy so shade higher humidity lower temperatures that is absolutely perfect
to Kabat at but also if you look around your house okay
surveillance research at connected AG Experiment Station demonstrated that
two-thirds of the people that sent ticks into them for identification and testing
got them from outdoor yard activities so things like ticks and gardening go hand
in hand and so for deer ticks you’re not gonna find them out in an open lawn okay
short grass direct sunlight higher temperatures that’s just a hostile
environment for ticks but you get to a transition zone so the edge of the yard
that might be in partial shade and that transitions to bushes trees leaf litter
lower temperatures higher humidity that’s where you’re gonna find the ticks
but if you think about that what do you ornamental plantings around the sides of
your house that’s tick habitat as well so you have to be careful of that so
here’s my contact information I’m always open for business look
forward to your calls or answering your emails and we would like to thank Cape
Cod healthcare for their generous support of this project


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