Musings of a roaming nature nerd

The Nasties: Ticks

My roommate and I have been talking lately about how any time a friend or colleague moves to a new location (Alaska, Belize, the Florida Keys) you typically see photos and hear stories of the amazing things they are doing. The grizzly that walked through camp. The glorious sunset that colored the mountains purple and red. Whether on facebook, over email or in an old fashioned letter, these are the kinds of things we all share with each other. After all, who wants to see pictures and hear stories of the swarming mosquitoes, the invisible and impossible-to-remove thorns in our socks, the endless exhaustion and filth and bruises? But it’s almost too easy to share only the fun, amazing and beautiful things. Every job, every lifestyle, even the best ones, have a challenging side and that can make things interesting too…

So over the next few blog entries I plan to pay homage to the less enjoyable things.

Lets start with ticks.



I’m from the east. I know about ticks. While backpacking in Kentucky one time, a tick fell out of tree above me and into my cup of tea. After a day in the woods of New Hampshire (and after showering!) I found 9 nymphs embedded in my stomach. Oh, I know about ticks! But I was not quite prepared for California ticks. There are 47 different species of tick in California and 4 in San Diego county which like to latch on to humans. And while some of the tick borne diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Fever are less common here, not a single day goes by without a tick. I had to excuse myself from line at the post office after work, because I could feel one crawling up under my sports bra. Jason put his hand in his pocket the other day to discover a dozen ticks that had fallen in and couldn’t get back out. We find them crawling out of our clean laundry and sitting on the seat of the work trucks, waiting for us in the morning. We flush them down the toilet and they crawl right back out like little scuba divers resurfacing from a strange adventure. And while it disgusts me, it has made me start to think… man, ticks are really something!

There are two categories of tick in North America: Soft Ticks and Hard Ticks. The ones typically found on people are hard ticks (the little flat ones). Most hard ticks go through 3 or 4 life stages. Once hatched from its egg the six-legged larva seeks out its first meal of blood, usually on a bird or rodent. Once it feeds it molts into an eight-legged nymph, which also seeks a blood meal. After this meal it molts into an adult and will then die after its third feeding. An adult female will feed and then lay between 2-3000 eggs before completing her life cycle and dying. Many of the hard ticks live for over 3 years and can go months without feeding (soft ticks can go YEARS without feeding). They remain somewhat dormant until the right stimuli, such as carbon-dioxide (ie. breath), heat or movement, trigger their little senses and they lumber into action. Ticks are not fast moving and do not jump. They simply walk around, climbing vegetation and stretching out their tiny arms to grasp passersby in an act called “questing.” They are even known to recognize frequently utilized trails through grass or brush used by deer or fox or humans, and quest near those. Very little preys on ticks, although it is thought that possibly some herptofauna and a few birds such as grouse or turkeys eat them occasionally. They are very resilient and are very difficult to detect when they are on you, let alone when they are hiding in the grass. Considering that I spend most of my days bushwhacking through thick vegetation or trying to follow animal trails, my abundance of ticks is pretty easily explained. I just wish there was some way to avoid it!

I know for many of you reading, the very idea of this is at best repulsive. We live in a modern era where we can be as germ and bug free as we like. Not so many generations ago this would not have been the case. No one liked it, but they had no choice but to deal frequently with parasites like ticks. Although I can not wait for a tick free day at the end of the season, I’ve learned that I can deal with it too. And even though these are mean little blood sucking bastards, they still have an interesting existence. Hell, just the fact that they get around by “questing” is something I can relate to! My whole life feels like a quest or a journey- waiting to see what opportunity looks good next! In any case I love what I do too much to let a few creepy crawlies overshadow the positives. But yes, ticks do win the first slot in the nasty category!

2 Responses

  1. Momchester

    OK now I’m getting panicked about our visit …these little buggers are sure to find their way onto me in the middle of the night! (And to think I was only worried about bedbugs in hotels!!) Ticks and other “nasties” may be interesting from a scientific viewpoint but I’d have been more receptive after the visit! (Got any paper bags I can breathe into?!!)

    July 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm

  2. Dad

    Love the contrarian spin to this! Pretty funny ending…so are you and Jason two-legged ticks when you stay with us in PA!? …hee hee :-) But seriously, cool entry. Look forward to the next one!

    July 16, 2012 at 5:56 am