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Tick Season is in Full Swing in Vermont

April 3, 2012

It’s going to be an intense tick season this year.  You might call it the ‘perfect storm’.  Blame it on the white-footed mouse and the acorns.  What?!  2010 had a huge crop of acorns, a favorite of the white-footed mouse.  Plenty of feed led to plenty of mice; their population swelled in 2011.  Lots of white-footed mice means easy feeding opportunities for the deer (or black-legged) tick larvae.

The deer tick has 3 growth stages: larva, nymph and adult.  All ticks need a blood meal to progress to each successive growth stage.  It takes about 2 years for a tick to hatch from an egg, grow through the 3 growth stages, reproduce and then die.   The adult female lays eggs in the spring, at a rate of about 3,000 eggs per adult female tick.  These eggs hatch into larvae.

These larvae wait on the ground for a small mammal or bird to brush against it.  The larvae attach themselves to their hosts for its first blood meal.  One mouse can carry hundreds of larvae.  After feeding, they drop off their hosts and molt into nymphs in the fall. Larvae are not born infected with Lyme disease; if their host is infected, they will probably become infected.

Remember, lots of acorns led to lots of mice last year; that led to a ‘bumper crop’ of nymphs by last fall.  They are inactive in cold temperatures, but awoke this spring hungry for their next blood meal.  They wait on vegetation near the ground for a host mammal or bird to come by.  Once engorged, they drop off their host and molt into an adult. If, as larvae, they became infected with Lyme disease, they can transmit it to their host.  This is also a second chance for them to become infected with Lyme disease.

The adults seek hosts throughout the autumn, waiting up to 3 feet above the ground on vegetation, for deer, humans, dogs or other large mammals to come by.   If they are unsuccessful in finding a blood meal in the autumn, they overwinter in the vegetation, and actively seek a host as soon as the weather begins to warm up.  They need this blood meal to mate and lay eggs.  If, as larvae or nymphs, they became infected with Lyme disease, they can transmit it to their host. 

The first photo is of two ticks that were on my son’s dog last weekend.  Daisy is a short-haired, light-colored dog, and they show up on her well.  They’re easily found before they have a chance to have a blood meal and potentially infect her with Lyme disease.  The tick on the left is an adult deer tick; I am unsure of the other tick.  The second photo is an engorged deer tick we found on our dog, Kade; she is a Norwegian Elkhound, with a very thick, medium-length coat.  Unfortunately, we usually can’t find them until they are at least partially-engorged and are large enough to be felt.  We are vigilant about keeping current with topical applications for ticks and fleas as well as flea and tick collars.  Kade very much enjoys our frequent searches for ticks; it’s just great petting to her.

For more information, including how to remove ticks and signs of Lyme disease, go to our factsheet, Deer Ticks and Lyme Disease

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