- Kelly Whitmoyer and Sandy McNamara
Tick Talk: A Bitterroot Valley Fact of Life
First of all, I apologize right up front. I realize this story risks leaving you with the creepy-crawlies for a while, but it had to be done. If you're going to live in the Bitterroot, well then, you'll need to be familiar with this fact of life, these the most vile and disgusting of all parasitic pests.
There are hardly words to adequately convey the level of disdain I hold for ticks. Too dramatic, you might think? Well, imagine yourself enjoying a gloriously sunny, bluebird day on the trail when you decide to rest your weary self on a rock for just a
moment only to be faced with the horror of discovering you've sat on a nest of these things! Mmhm . . . I rest my case.
Horror stories and humor aside, you do need to be aware of tick season in the Bitterroot, tick identification, prevention and removal.
The Bitterroot's tick season arrives when things begin to warm up in the spring. As you know, the timing for this can vary widely, so it might be safest to assume ticks are out beginning of May, but can be as early as late March/April. Tick season can last through summer into fall, again, depending on how the weather goes. Remember, ticks are cold-blooded. They thrive in warm, humid environments so a consistent 70-90 degrees is ideal for their breeding and increase in population. When high heat is combined with dry weather these can work together to kill ticks, and they die off in freezing temperatures.
The most common species of tick in the area is the Rocky Mountain wood tick, but other species such as the American dog tick and the western black-legged tick can also be found.
Ticks are parasitic arachnids that feed on blood, both yours and your animals. They can remain attached to the skin for up to 10 days after they first bite. The longer the tick is attached the bigger it gets as it feeds. We take ticks seriously because they can transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. It is wise to take preventive measures to avoid bites.
Ticks typically live in tall grass, shrubs, and wooded areas, so whether you're mowing the lawn or out enjoying nature, avoid brushing up against trees, sage, shrubs and tall grass
Wearing protective clothing can also help prevent tick bites. Long-sleeved shirts and pants can provide a barrier between your skin and ticks. Tucking your pants into your socks can also help keep ticks from crawling up your legs. Although wearing light-colored clothing can make it easier to spot ticks, studies have shown that "dark clothing seems to attract fewer ticks".
After working or playing outdoors, remember to examine your gear and pets. Ticks can hitch a ride into your house on gear, pets and clothes, and then attach to a person later. Check your clothing for ticks! If your clothes are dirty wash them in hot water. If you don't need to wash them, you can kill ticks by putting running yo
ur clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes. It is also a good idea to shower with an hour or two of coming inside as it offers a good time to do a thorough tick check and can wash off unattached ticks.
Checking for ticks should become like second-nature to you after spending time outdoors. Ticks can attach themselves to any part of the body, but they often prefer the scalp and warm, hidden areas. Checking these areas and your entire body for ticks can help you spot and remove them before they have a chance to dig in and transmit any diseases.
If you do find a tick on your body, don't panic. To properly remove it, use tweezers, grasp the tick as close to your skin's surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. After removing the tick, clean the bite area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
Now, get out there and ENJOY SPRING!!