When I put up the first video, some questions started coming in.
But the one that surprised me the most?
When I finally picked my proverbial mouth up from the floor, I realized that there are people reading this site who have never seen a tick with their own eyes.
I promised to provide the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate safely. So… ladies, gentlemen, and non-conformist individuals, allow me to introduce to you to a tick.
Above is a stock image depicting a tick. Most are brown in color, or reddish-brown, and resemble a flat* raisin with eight jointed legs. The legs have hooks on the ends that they grab on and climb with. They are arachnids so they are cousins of spiders, scorpions, and mites.
*it looks flat until it’s having a meal. Some will also change color as they feed.. more on that later.
Let’s call him: Dick. It feels right, yanno? Dick The Tick.
Dick has a mate, Etta, who has quested for a decent-sized mammal because she is reaching the end of her life. When Dick sees Etta is taking in a large meal, he takes his spermatophore (a little sack of sperm) from his “genital pore” and puts it in Etta’s genital pore.
I kid you not, read this Slate article for more details. The author likened tick procreation from the female side to getting “interrupted at breakfast by the UPS guy, with a package of perishables.” 😂
The thing is: if you look at a more realistic image (or an actual picture), that “raisin” has 2 claws protecting what looks like a blade of a chainsaw in the middle of its mouth parts. That is called a hypostome.
When most people see this up close they squirm, cringe, and wonder how much the bite hurts. They are surprised, but relieved, to learn that they wouldn’t feel a thing with most pathogen-carrying ticks!
The tick species that most transmits BorreliaEtc, the Ixodes, has a lidocaine effect in its saliva. It opens the skin with its claws, then uses the hypostome like a straw to take a meal.
Many people who become sick with BorreliaEtc don’t remember ever feeling a tick bite.
Besides the lidocaine effect, ticks have anticoagulants in their saliva so the blood will keep flowing. They also have proteins they pass into our bloodstream that fool the immediate surrounding tissue into not reacting via immune system.
All of this together means that when we don’t feel the bite and our body is told not to fight the bite – the parasites the tick is carrying will enter our body without the slightest bit of pushback.
Ticks are so well-adapted to carry pathogens (they don’t get sick!) that we humans have studied them for biowarfare. Kris Newby’s book Bitten details the evidence in pictures, with both written and spoken testimony.
Let’s stay with the Ixodes (“ick so deez”) that are commonly called Deer Ticks. They are the type you will see and hear about most when Lyme disease is the main topic.
Here is the tick life cycle with some details, courtesy of the CDC:
Though I linked the image above to the CDC (that is where the image comes from) I urge you to question the claims the CDC makes.
Ultimately it comes down to money. We don’t survey every county in every state to have a real idea of tick distribution in the USA. We don’t study the infections enough. The authors of the *IDSA’s Lyme Diagnosis & Treatment Guidelines nearly all have conflicts of interest.
(IDSA = Infectious Diseases Society of America)
If you want to know what we have been fighting, please watch Under Our Skin. Especially from time stamp 42:32 to 44:30.
Those two minutes will explain our biggest complaint with the CDC: profits over people.
Back to ticks.
I found this map on a veterinarian’s website, color-coding what areas of the country we have to be careful of ticks in what time of year.
I’ll make it easier:
(Sorry, I didn’t label Alaska: May-Oct.)
It took not even a minute for me to put a palm to my face. This map is woefully behind current data at best, and misleading at worse. Climate change, deforestation, and overall human influence on nature has expanded the natural habitat of ticks. We’ve also found out that ticks can survive in colder weather than we previously thought.
EVERYWHERE on that map should be purple. All 50 states have pathogen-laden ticks in their borders year round. Snow fall actually insulates the ground; we are learning so much about the survival of ticks that changes the entire game.
I remember a time when the argument was: “Ticks can’t cross the Mississippi River! That’s an East Coast problem.”
Once a surgeon told me and my caregiver that she moved her family from the Midwest — where her babies came inside from playing and she found ticks all over their groin areas(!) — to the West Coast because she was told there are no ticks out here. (I hated bursting her bubble on that one.)
Birds can fly over rivers, giving ticks a first class ticket to visit other parts of the country. Deer/horses/moose/etc can swim. Ticks have all kinds of methods for conquering their environmental challenges.
Of the (approx) 90 types of ticks we have in this country, 9 of those species can transmit dangerous pathogens to humans. They are the:
We used to divide the USA into 4 areas: the West, the East, the Midwest, and the Gulf Coast. However, ticks that were once only on the Gulf Coast are now found up the Atlantic Coast and in the Midwest. Now we have condensed the areas into 2: the West and East.
Let’s start with the West.
These are the 4 ticks to be on the lookout for in the West:
(The American Dog Tick is growing its territory and is coming into the West. It was first reported in Colorado, then it was all over the lowlands of the mountains.)
Then there is the East. I am focusing on the United States of America, where I live. If you are in Canada or Mexico (or Europe, or Russia, China, or the Caucasus..) look up your country’s statistics, but pay attention to your neighbors too. Ticks don’t respect borders, they follow their senses to CO2.
There are 7 types of ticks native to the Eastern US that will give humans infections.
And by the way.. there’s a new guy in town.
There is an East Asian Tick that showed up recently on American soil in New Jersey. It’s called the Asian Long-horned Tick. We aren’t sure how, but it’s very possible they were on a person or in luggage) and were brought to America unknowingly.
This is the first time we’ve caught an invasive tick species in the USA, but some researchers wonder whether this has happened before but we just didn’t have the knowledge nor technology?
Each of the ticks mentioned carry their own cocktails of infections. Most of them carry borrelia, relapsing fever, or types of both. Other possibilities are Bartonella, Babesia, Ehrlicia, Anaplasma, Q fever, and others.
One last thing.. the longer a tick has been feeding on you or a pet, the bigger it will get. The color of the tick turns lighter brown to a gray.
The outside can be scary. Ticks and other vectors such as mosquitos and fleas pose a threat to our well-being. But I’m not trying to scare anyone into never leaving home – I love nature. If I was well enough I’d hike, travel forests, go to the beach, visit national parks.. I’d go everywhere I could. I’d just make sure I’m prepared for many outcomes.
In my own yard my parents and I keep our grass cut, we have wide trails for walking in our forested back yard, we keep natural pest repellant for our bodies and our animal’s bodies.
We have to be careful about using chemicals on our property (I’m highly sensitive) so we use products with essential oils rather than chemical repellents. We use Wondercide and it works well! If you are interested in trying it out, there is a 10% sale happening for the opening of summer! Please check out the website for more details.
(We are not affiliated with Wondercide in any way, it’s just a good tool!)
The best thing to do is a tick check when you come inside.
When you’re done with gardening, hiking, playing, walking in the woods, and all around enjoying the great outdoors, please follow these steps:
If you find an attached tick — do not panic.
With your tool (tweezers work), take a firm hold on the hypostome and pull steadily up. Don’t yank, don’t tug, just keep pulling steadily and the tick will let go.
Put the tick in a bag or container you can close, and clean the wound on the body.
Next you want to report this tick to a university or program that will help you identify it. Have a tick tracking app downloaded and ready on your phone.
After you’ve taken the picture and sent your report in, put the tick inside a Ziploc bag with a wet paper towel so you can send that tick into a lab. Label the bag with the date, time, and where it was attached on your body. For more detailed instructions, read this page.
Send in the tick to a lab to be tested.
Telephone: (413) 545-1057
Telephone: (970) 305-5587
Telephone: (866) 713-TICK
Telephone: (800) 832-3200
Then keep a sharp eye on yourself or your loved one. If you start to experience any symptoms like a cold, or if you feel any joint pain and lethargy, please call your doctor as soon as you can. Repeat the information about the tick that bit you (when, where it was, etc) for your doctor and show them the picture you took of the tick, or the report the lab created for you.