Ticks are NOT insects! Does that bug you?
Ticks are actually arachnids, just like spiders and mites. Ticks eat the blood of living animals, almost like little mini vampires (minus the cape and spooky castle). Ticks latch on to the skin of their host animal – usually some sort of mammal or bird. It’s called a host animal because it provides things that ticks need (such as food)… even though the animal may not want the tick!
Ticks are tiny all through their life stage. Tick larvae and nymphs are about as big as a poppy seed. Adults ticks are about as big as a sesame seeds but they can be almost as big as a grape when fully engorged with blood.
In Ontario we have two species of ticks: deer ticks (also called black-legged ticks) and dog ticks. Ticks in Ontario can be found in a range of habitats, but usually they like areas that are grassy and forested (with leaf litter). They are also found in gardens!
Sick of Ticks: Diseases from Ticks
Sometimes ticks can transmit diseases to their hosts. The diseases can make the hosts (people and other animals) very sick, even though they don’t make the ticks sick. Deer ticks can transmit diseases including Lyme disease. Dog ticks can transmit diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
We have deer ticks in the Georgian Bay Biosphere, so there is a risk of getting Lyme disease from a deer tick. Lyme disease has been reported from across Ontario, including parts of the Biosphere. Even though we have dog ticks in the Biosphere there have been no cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The disease is thought to be farther south for now.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacteria that lives in Deer Ticks. The bacteria doesn’t make ticks sick, but it can make other animals (including humans) very sick. Ticks usually require 24—48 hours of being attached to the host before they can transmit Lyme disease. This is why it’s important to check for ticks soon after you come indoors!
Keep Things Right: Prevent a Bite
- Check your entire body after being outdoors in areas where ticks might live. Remember to check hard-to-see places like behind your ears, in your armpits, and behind your knees!
- Try to shower within 2 hours of being outside.
- Put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes.
- Use bug spray with DEET or icardin.
- Be tick a-“wear” and wear clothing to prevent tick bites (see image below!).
- Stay on trails and pathways to avoid brushing up with vegetation.
Tick Off: Removing a Tick
- Use clean tweezers to grasp the tick by its head and slowly pull straight backwards and upwards to remove the tick from your skin
- Instead of tweezers, you could also use a special tick-removing tool called a Tick Key
- Place the tick in a sealed bag or container so that you can send it for testing if it’s a Deer Tick or if you’re not sure
- Wash the area with warm soapy water
- Keep checking the bite area to look for any redness and/or swelling
- Check the Public Health Agency of Canada for next steps
- Contact your health care provider if you are worried or feeling unwell