Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Wood Ticks - I'm Ticked Off!

This was written because I'm "ticked off" about the failure of articles in local newspapers to address myths and sooth passions and fears about these insects.

Tick populations are enlarging and expanding their territories. There are reports of Lyme-carrying ticks in Manitoba and people suffering from Lyme disease as far afield as North Battleford. Ticks wander about our bodies for almost 12 hours before they choose a homestead and settle in for a bloody meal. They can be very tiny but they eventually reveal their location when the victim starts to itch.

There are two myths constantly repeated by various non-biologists.

Myth 1.    That Ticks “burrow” or that they can separate their mouth parts when pulled off. 

      Ticks have no interest in trying to get their armoured bodies under anyone’s skin AND their mouth parts are very firmly attached to their bodies. 

These myths seem to have its origin in the lesions that sometimes develop after a tick is removed. A tick that has been attached long enough will inject some of its saliva under the skin. Many people react with itching, scratching vigorously which results in scabs that will be unusually blackened (having a bit of necrosis from the venom). Pets may also perpetuate the myth because my dog often develops obnoxious scabs.

The saliva actually contains an an anti-clotting venom; once injected, the tick exerts tremendous suction to pull the blood into what becomes their bloated abdomen.

Check the tick closely after removal – sometimes you can be super reassured because there will be a tiny piece of skin within the jaw pincers.

Myth 2.    That you need special skills or equipment to remove a tick. 

      I cannot imagine the hysteria if swatting a mosquito were as complicated as tick removal sounds.

Use your thumb and forefinger and pull directly or twist the tick off. This is not a new method, we’ve been doing it this way for forty years. DON’T use matches, lighters or any caustic substances.

We find disposal of, or killing, them difficult – if you want to return it to nature, do so. I prefer dropping it into a jar of rubbing alcohol. Flushing it down the toilet or dropping it into a sink drain are other options.

If the mouth parts were well attached, we suggest keeping the tick between clear tape in a journal, giving the date and person affected. While it is unlikely that the “dog tick”, still the most common tick on the prairies, carries any diseases, we feel reassured that we have recorded its presence. We also note whether it is engorged and whether there is a skin reaction. We only do this to well-attached ticks.

If you want to make removal more complicated, suggestions include using tweezers, using a needle to disengage the jaws, rubbing alcohol, Vaseline or oil on the attached tick (and be patient), or go to a health center, (we have so many ticks that “complicated” is just not feasible – getting ready for bed would take hours!)


Suggestions of showering, covering up with socks over pants, wearing light coloured clothing, and doing a daily “tick check” with a family member or friend are all probably your best defenses. They routinely survive showers, find their ways to skin in spite of clothing and then make themselves known during their search for a place to settle down – usually as the victim tries to go asleep.

In any case, people, quit freaking out about ticks. They are here and we need to adapt – at least for now.