April — About that annoying tick you have

Is there a joy greater than a sunny 60-degree day in April? You’re on a walk along the bluff line at the Pine Bend Bluffs SNA in Inver Grove Heights listening to the first eastern phoebe of the year and the next thing you know, you’re involved in a full-blown frolic. You end up lying on your back looking up at the clear blue sky and dozing in the warm sun. No flies or mosquitoes to break the feeling of nirvana. Life is truly good. The faint tickle on your face is enough to bring you to the edge of consciousness. Your hand goes up and plucks a small crawly from your left cheek. You open your eyes to see what dares to interrupt your royal slumber — a wood tick. Once again, you miss the 45 minutes between snow melt and wood tick season.

Now that you’re awake, it’s time to educate you about these little creatures. Wood ticks are arachnids and related to spiders and mites. The most common tick of the 13 species found here in Minnesota is the American Dog Tick. The female lays eggs (no surprise there), which hatch during the summer months. The cute little babes, or larvae, do not feed that first year but are darn hungry the following spring. After latching on to a passing mouse, vole, or shrew, they have a well-deserved blood meal and drop off. Now a nymph, the tick will have a second meal after which it develops into an adult, usually during late summer of the second year. The adults wait until the following spring to feed, after which the female lays her eggs and then dies. Such is the life of a tick.

Ticks do not climb trees and jump onto passing mammals. They climb grass and short shrubs and when something walks by, they use their front legs to grab on. It may take a while to find a juicy spot to bite. Some even excrete a cement-like substance that holds them in place while feeding.

Ticks should not keep you from visiting some of the wonderful natural areas along the Mississippi River. You should, however, check yourself for ticks when you get home. Lyme disease, potentially serious and a real threat here in Minnesota, is transmitted by deer or black-legged ticks. Use of insect repellents can be a very effective tick-deterrent.

To view some pictures of dog and deer ticks visit “Known Vectors That Transmit Lyme Disease are Ticks” at the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation’s web site.

For information on Lyme disease, visit “Learn about Lyme Disease” at the Centers for Disease Control’s web site.