Ticks not only can carry disease, they are disgusting. I have rarely noticed ticks on our property, but recently, I found two in the house, where they must have come in on my clothes after I worked in the high grasses and wildflowers in the yard. Yuck! Fortunately, they weren’t engorged with blood.
Ticks are related to spiders. However, they feed on blood, beginning several hours after they attach to a host. They usually hang out (literally) on sagebrush, grasses and low plants, waiting for a mammalian host to come by, whether a human, a pet, a large mammal or rodent. Nymphs feed primarily on rodents, such as voles or mice, and rarely attach to humans or pets. On average, nymphs feed for three days but can feed for up to 11 days. Once full of blood from their host, nymphs detach. They then develop into adults in approximately two weeks, which will attach to another host for a final feeding before mating. Adult ticks generally feed on medium to large mammals for seven to 10 days.
“When ticks have found a host to feed on, they usually look for areas of soft skin. If you don’t find the tick and remove it first, it will fall off on its own once it is full. This usually happens after a few days, but it can sometimes take up to two weeks” (Utah State University Cooperative Extension, https://utahpests.usu.edu/uppdl/files-ou/factsheet/ticks2013PP.pdf).
According to Jeff Knight, the Nevada state entomologist, “Our incidences of tick-borne illness is very low, practically nonexistent.” Knight says check yourself, your family, friends, even the family dog after trekking in the wilderness. If you find a tick, take a pair of tweezers and slide them close to the skin and remove the tick, head and all, all at once. Don’t twist, as leaving the head in will increase your risk of infection.
“Flushing down the toilet will not kill ticks; it’s a sewer theme park ride for them. Do not squish the tick to death with your fingers. Contagious tick-borne diseases are transmitted this way. Instead, drop the tick into a container of alcohol” (Utah State University Cooperative Extension).
When you are outside, where light-colored protective clothing with long sleeves and long pants. Use insect repellent with permethrin or DEET. After being in tick habitat, do a thorough tick check and remove any found without squeezing its body. If you develop a rash or fever within days of removing a tick, see your doctor.
JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.