For the past few years ticks have been noticeably rising in population in the local area, mainly due to warmer average temperatures. But this winter was different, with high winds, more snowfall, and a slightly colder season. While that might have seemed an antidote to the growth of the tick problem, experts caution against too much optimism.
With the rise in ticks, a greater chance of contracting Lyme Disease is one risk. Transmission of Lyme disease is largely dependent upon black-legged ticks' ability to locate and feed upon competent host animals, mainly small mammals.
Most human cases occur during the peak periods of nymphal host-seeking behavior in late spring and early summer. For an ecosystem to support ticks, it must satisfy two requirements.
The first is that the population density of host species in the area must be high enough, and the second is that the humidity must be high enough for the ticks to remain hydrated.
According to Project Coordinator for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Steve Parren, this is exactly what is taking place. Warmer weather also causes the spread of ticks as they latch on to mice and other small mammals to transport themselves.
"I tend to get small ticks in the spring and associate it with carrying in wood," he said. "Mice are hosts to larval ticks and I suspect them of depositing ticks in my woodpile. Some people I know have already mentioned getting ticks on them."
According to the Center of Disease Control, it is hard to control the population of ticks. The most common forms population control is based around introducing other species of animals. The Chalcid Wasp lays its eggs in ticks and kills them upon hatching. Guineafowl is a bird species which consumes mass quantities of ticks.
At least for now people are going to have to learn how to deal with ticks on a regular basis and try to avoid contact with them, he said.
According to the Vermont Department of Health, the best ways to stay tick-free are too wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave, so ticks can be spotted easily. Wearing enclosed shoes, long pants and sleeves and tuck them in, applying insect repellent containing DEET - the active ingredient in such insect repellent formulas - avoiding sitting on the ground or stone walls, shower soon after coming inside from tick habitat, and doing a final full body check at the end of the day looking for anything that might be a tick are recommended. "Long sleeves and tucking in socks are things sometimes suggested to avoid ticks. You need to check to see if you have ticks on you after being outside. I find I can feel them moving and usually find them before they start to attach. When they attach it usually gets my attention. Some use insecticide like DEET but I rather pick the ticks off than have that stuff on me," said Parren.
You don't have to be outside all that often to experience tick related problems. Ticks often find their way inside the home catching a ride on pets like dogs and cats. Just like with any other mammal ticks will find any warm body to attach to. It is important to be a responsible pet owner and make sure to groom pets after they find their way back inside.
Although Vermont has not experienced levels of ticks that have threatened the animals and the environment, it does seem to be getting worse, something that Parren is concerned about.
"We have recognized that ticks are state wide now, not as bad as Connecticut yet, but we are getting close," he said. "It is something we will keep our eye on and try to make sure that it doesn't get out of hand."