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Get ready for ticks

Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist

Spring has arrived and as we start enjoying our favorite outdoor activities, don’t let your fun be ruined by ticks. Although it is difficult to make predictions on the severity of ticks in a given season, it does appear because of our mild winter, that we may experience a year of above average tick numbers. However regardless of how abundant they are, ticks are always a concern that people should remember so they can take the proper precautions to protect themselves when outdoors.
Adult female blacklegged (deer) tick, a potential vector of
Lyme disease.  Photo: Jeff Hahn, U of M Extension

There are two common ticks in Minnesota; the blacklegged tick (also called deer tick) and the American dog tick (also called wood tick). Both ticks are nuisances because they bite to take a blood meal from not only people but also pests including dogs and horses. Blacklegged (deer) ticks are a health problem because they are a potential vector of Lyme disease and other diseases (see Tick-borne disease in Minnesota). Both of these ticks are common in grassy fields and the underbrush

Keeping ticks out of your yard is challenging, especially when property is adjacent to natural habitat. Fortunately ticks generally are not found in lawns that are kept short. Routinely mowing brushy areas along the perimeter of lawns will help minimize ticks from moving into yards. If large numbers of ticks are present, it is possible to treat the perimeter with an insecticide to help reduce the number of ticks that may move into that area. It is not practical or effective to treat an entire area of natural control ticks.

Tick tubes and tick boxes are sold for blacklegged (deer) tick control. Mice enter tick tubes and can take insecticide-impregnated cotton back to their burrows as nesting material. The insecticide kills ticks that occur on the mice. Although research has shown tick numbers are reduced, it has not demonstrated a decrease in the number of infected ticks.

Tick boxes, sold through licensed applicators, treat mice that feed on bait inside the box. While they feed, they are treated with an insecticide that will kill ticks infesting the mice. It has demonstrated they can reduce a large of number of ticks found on mice, although it has not demonstrated an ability to reduce the incidence of Lyme disease in the treatment area. It does not hurt anything to use these devices, although their use may not achieve the desired control that is sought.

Regardless of what you do on your property, use personal protection when you are out in known tick areas. Take these steps to protect yourself from ticks:
of hardwood forests.
  • Stay on trails and avoid when possible walking into brushy, grassy areas where ticks are more common.
  • Wear long, light colored pants so ticks are easier to detect. For additional protection, tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Use repellants: Deet can be treated on clothes and skin while products containing permethrin are applied just to clothing
  • Do a tick check when you return from the outdoors. They are small and can be easily overlooked so look carefully. Be sure to look in out of the way places, like behind ears or behind knees.
If you do find a tick, especially if it has been biting, get it positively identified. While American dog ticks are not an important disease vector, blacklegged (deer) ticks can transmit a variety of diseases, especially Lyme disease.

 For more information, see Ticks and their control.

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