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Tick magnet

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2009 in random science

After hiking with my husband at St. Croix State Park, I now suspect him of having met a genie or other wish-granting entity and mumbling while asking to become a chick magnet. The genie or other entity heard him say “tick magnet” instead and immediately granted the wish. He couldn’t get three feet without finding a tick on him. He must have removed 50 ticks during our walk. I had maybe a dozen. I’m taking him with me everywhere now, but I think I might stop riding with him in the car. A man cannot safely drive while trying to pull a tick off of his leg.

I learned something else on this trip. I’ve always wondered why we grow hair on our legs and elsewhere as adults. I now believe that it is in order to track the movement of insects and blood-sucking creatures that might be on our body. Even though HabMoo had far more ticks on him during our hike, I found more on me when we stripped down at our campsite. They had crawled up my clean shaven legs without my knowledge. I’m never shaving from April to June again. Better make that July just to be safe.

Naturally this experience has me thinking. For one thing, how deadly are these hard-shelled little bastards that want my blood? I see ticks and I think of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Both have occurred too frequently in Minnesota. Over 400 cases per year are to be expected for Lyme disease; we’re safer from Rocky Mountain Spotter Fever. But whenever you investigate something like this you always find out something you didn’t want to know. Deer ticks can also spread granulocytic ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. I can’t pronounce these things but I understand that if you have them it means you’re sick.

But there’s good news, too. “The frequency of reported cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever is highest among males, Caucasians, and children,” the CDC reports. I only qualify for one out of three of those. HabMoo is male and Caucasian. Maybe that’s part of his magnetism.

The fact that children are more susceptible supports my theory about body hair. Children don’t need it because adults can easily check them for creepy crawlies. They’re always being inspected for dirt and cuts and such. Adults are less inclined to do such checking for each other. You never see someone at a campsite walking over to the next tent, mooning the occupants, and asking to be looked over.

When I was young we always spent Mother’s Day hunting for morel mushrooms and ticks. The two went together. Mom and Dad used the old match treatment whenever they found a tick holding tight to my skin: light a match, let it burn a bit, then blow it out and touch it to the tick. This was supposed to make the tick drop off or cauterize the wound or something. The CDC warns that it can actually cause the tick to regurgitate its gut contents into the bite area. That’s much more frightening than the red ember of a match. HabMoo and I used a tweezers. I also took a shower and long bath to be sure I drowned anything hiding out somewhere I hadn’t checked.

I don’t understand why the horror genre of fiction and film hasn’t made better use of the tick. They are the worst of the blood suckers. They have four stages in their life cycle and after the buggers hatch they must feed once in each stage in order to molt and develop to the next stage. They become infected from feeding upon the blood of an infected host. They just pass along the fun while feeding on the next one.

Not all ticks are infected, and studies suggest it may take several hours or even days for infected ticks to transmit infection. For some reason, it’s mostly the females that are responsible for transmitting diseases. I guess females are just better at sharing. Oh, and they lay from 2,000 to 18,000 eggs. There’s a picture of a tick laying eggs on the Internet, and you can thank me for not linking to it.

When you’re walking along trying not to freak out and invent new dance moves to shake off ticks, your mind tries to focus on other things. About as far as you can focus is on other victims. I mean you’re out where there’s a path, yes, but you haven’t seen another human or a deer or rodent or anything but birds all day. What do ticks feed on when you’re not there for them? Are there enough deer in the entire state to feed all the ticks you’ve removed from your body in one day? Well the CDC reports that the American dog tick feeds mostly on dogs and medium sized mammals. It’s really not all that comforting that you’re a meal more like Brussels sprouts than like pizza. Most ticks must starve. Czech parasitologists are working on a vaccine that will make them do just that after feeding. It involves poisoning them with too much iron or something. I wish them great success.

Just to prove that the creator has a sense of balance, bats also battle ticks. They have their own soft variety called the Carios kelleyi by someone who must have had a really bad breakup with a girl named Kelley. I feel that I must warn you that if you have a bat infestation in your attic and then get rid of it, these ticks will probably linger in your home. It takes them a long time to starve and they’ll feed on humans if they have to. If you feel the need to read more about this there’s more info at the Iowa State site on bat ticks.

So my friends, stay out of the grass and timber lands, or at least be sure to check yourself over every few hours. And I’m terribly sorry if you now feel phantom ticks crawling all over you. I didn’t mean to pass that syndrome along. I don’t know how you can avoid it since the literature is strangley silent about it. We all know it happens though. So don’t feel shy about asking your office mate to just take a brief scan of your body. Once you tell them why you’re asking they’ll be feeling the same itchy sensations, too.

  1. Found another one last night. Think they might’ve colonized the house. We’re doomed!

  2. I am mortified of ticks, but don’t know if I’ve ever seen one all up close and personal. Deer ticks was the big spook in NJ. But like good creative writing (not web writing) this is about something… else.

    Here’s an article for MN, reviewed 2009:

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