Thom Smith | NatureWatch: Dress properly. Wear repellent. Prevent tick bites

For many years, I applied Deet before going in to woods and fields, often wore light clothing with pant legs tucked into commercially impregnated socks that purportedly dissuaded ticks from hitching a ride to the lunch counter. And never was I bothered by ticks, while others with me would often pick up a few. This casual jaunt last Saturday was primarily to check on the flowering of low-bush blueberries. My brother-in-law was anxious to confirm good berry picking later in the season. Careful as ever, I and my dog Jake on a short leash , avoided the various plants along the way until I began noticing wild flowers new to me. I wandered into knee-high grasses and flowers, not far, but apparently too far.

Sadly, we continued looking for milkweed, eager to see a good scattering to feed monarch butterfly caterpillars. And yes, upon returning to Patrick and Lisa's home, we began noticing more deer ticks on the dog — we had picked a couple as we returned to Upper County Road. After having found a couple on Patrick and a few more than that on me, we knew we were in trouble. My wife Sue, daughter Lisa and Paddy, our 5-year-old grandson and I, holding Jake still, eventually removed at least the 17 that we counted, with some discussion that there had been more.

We have all been warned that this was going to be a good year for the ticks and a bad year for small rodents and deer, people and their pets. The truth is until the season is under way, we don't know for sure as there are so many variables that affect population size. My guess was that it would be a bad year for us, at least where we were and probably into southern Vermont and the Berkshires. From now on, I won't take any more chances, even as a citizen scientist looking for evidence of ticks, and hope to remain tick-free for ever more! By the way, ticks are living throughout our winters in a kind of hibernation, but are apt to become active any time they reach 40 degrees or warmer. These "warm spells" encourage thawing and that encourages ticks to become active, even in January, if only for a short time.

In a March 20 Boston Globe story, Felice J. Freyer wrote in a deer tick and Lyme disease account, "Besides, said Dr. Catherine M. Brown, Massachusetts public health veterinarian, fluctuations in the deer population don't matter much.

"We are a state where Lyme risk exists everywhere, essentially every inch of our state," Brown said. "Whether it's a little bit worse one year or a little bit better one year does not change the fact that there will be too much disease transmission. People," she said, "need to take precautions every year: Wear tick-protective clothing and insect repellent, and check for ticks after going outside."

Remember to wear long, light-colored pants and keep tucked into your socks when outdoors in fields and along their edges, long grass, brush and anywhere else where ticks may be found. A dog or cat can bring one into the house for instance. If you need more incentive, in addition to Lyme disease, a virus, and Anaplasmosis, a bacteria, another even more frightening tick-borne disease is Powassan virus, and while rare, it is spreading, and is carried by deer and woodchuck ticks.

In addition to the two mentioned ticks is the dog tick. I do hope scientists develop a control that will interrupt their development, hence reduce their numbers.


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