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Tick ​​Season is about to Get a Whole Lot Worse for Hikers and Dog Owners



W ith spring comes glorious sunshine, warm weather – and ticks

Ticks and some insect pests can carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause disease in humans. One in particular, the blacklegged deer tick Ixodes scapularis is well known for its ability to transmit the [Lyme disease-causing bacterium] (https://www.inverse.com/article/50478-avoid-lyme-disease -from-ticks-this-fall), Borrelia burgdorferi .

For the most part, these ticks are inactive throughout the winter and begin to look for their next meal as seasonal temperatures warm up. ] But as the global climate warms, it is more likely that some ticks will remain active through the warmer winters and can expand their habitats into new areas. Because of this, hikers and dog owners need to be vigilant for the ticks year-round to reduce the risk of getting sick

Cold Adapted

Ticks and other pests prevail in the forests during the warmer months, from spring to fall . But where do they go during the winter and how do they survive the cold polar vortexes, inches of snow, and frostbite-inducing windchill

Animals use a variety of strategies to deal with the winter months. While the human layer is on clothing and mostly avoiding going outside during bone-chilling temperatures, other organisms employ sophisticated behavioral adaptations and biological technologies to make the winter head-on

For the common house mosquito, Culex pipiens hibernation is key to survival. The insect enters a dormant phase (called diapause), allowing it to remain mostly inactive through the winter. The female Culex mosquito, a possible carrier of the West Nile virus, builds fat stores during the summer and fall that serve as energy reserves and insulation for the winter months. This source of energy is useful for mosquitoes after they seek out and settle in human-made structures, sewers, and animal burrows that they use as shelter to help them escape subzero temperatures

 dogs
Blacklegged ticks are placed on the tips of grasses to look for their next blood meal, such as passing dogs.

Ticks, however, do not enter diapause and are still able to eat and eat a blood meal under the right conditions. These blood-sucking parasites live close to their host organisms, and can sometimes spend their entire life cycle on one animal. They use a technique called questing to locate a host that will serve as their next blood meal. Ticks stand on vegetation such as tall grasses and assume a sit-and-wait position.

Humans have employed our own behavioral strategies to protect ourselves from ticks during the warm seasons of the year.

Battle Against the Bite

One of the main challenges we still face in our battle against the bite is the fact that we have a long-sleeved clothing and a protective sprays when going on hikes through the wooded and grassy areas.

For example, blacklegged deer ticks will avoid questing in warmer southern regions such as South Carolina, where the risk of dehydration pushes them to the ground, mostly below the leaf litter.

Interestingly, blacklegged deer ticks also have the ability to quest at temperatures as low as -0.6 degrees Celsius. This means that deer ticks are not limited to seeking out hosts during warm months alone but can continue feeding well into early and late winter. It is therefore not important to lower your guard when enjoying the outdoors in wintertime.

Ticks are most active when temperatures rise above 7 degrees C. But do not be fooled into thinking that ticks just die when the harsh winter weather kicks in! In fact, deer ticks are likely to survive even the harshest polar vortex.

It is quite common for clusters to cluster in hibernation nests and seek refuge under the soil and ground litter within the forests where temperature is less likely fall below zero. In addition, the snow cover, which acts as an insulating blanket over ground litter, tends to further isolate the ticks from the frigid winter air temperatures.

Like other cold-tolerant organisms, ticks can also produce an antifreeze that helps them tolerate

Looking Forward

Climate change and the warming of our planet have resulted in the expansion of blacklegged deer tick populations to more northern regions of North America, including the states of Wisconsin “/>

So, what can we expect as the weather warms up and as long as winter nights transition into sunnier spring days? You can be sure that a large number of ticks that were around last season probably survived this winter. They are simply waiting for the right cues – warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours – to emerge and start the quest for their next blood meal.


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