Question: I recently found a tick on my leg. I thought they were only active in the summer. What tick is responsible for Lyme's disease?
Answer: In the fall or early spring ticks mate on large animals, lay their eggs and then die. Those that did not get a blood meal in the fall will go dormant during the winter. When temperatures go above freezing they become active and begin to seek a meal. They are most frequently spotted during warm spells in winter as we have recently experienced. They are more commonly found in the understory of wooded areas, high grassy areas and open fields.
There are more than 500 species of ticks worldwide, many of which transmit diseases from an infected host. In our area there are four main types of ticks - the black legged tick also known as the deer tick; the lone star tick; the American dog tick; and the brown dog tick. Lyme disease is transmitted from the bite of a deer tick. Approximately 20 percent to 45 percent of deer ticks in New Jersey are infected and transmit this disease.
The life cycle of a tick consists of three stages with a different animal host required for each stage. As a larva, the tick feeds on the white footed mouse which commonly carries the spirochete called Borrelia (B.) burgdorferi. During the second stage, the nymph stage, they are the size of a poppy seed and feed on larger animals including birds, raccoons, opossum, squirrels, cats, dogs and humans. Seventy percent of all Lyme disease cases occur during this stage. During the adult stage they will be the size of a sesame seed with peak activity in October/November. Adults feed primarily on deer but can be found on other large animals, including humans.
If you discover a tick on your skin remove it with tweezers with a backward force. An accurate identification of the type of tick is important. For identification, place the tick in a plastic bag closed tightly and bring it into our extension office in Mays Landing. Some possible symptoms of Lyme disease are headache, flulike symptoms, bulls-eye rash, swelling and pain in your joints. If you have any of these symptoms contact your physician immediately.
While you garden you might want to consider using a repellent. Repellents applied to clothing and skin can repel 82 percent to 100 percent of ticks. Granular insecticides are more effective for control at the nymph stage and should be applied in late May early June. Liquid insecticides provide good control for the adult stage and should be applied after the leaves have dropped from the trees in November and again in April.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org