Experts Foresee Summer 2021 As A ‘Tick Time Bomb’


By Korin Miller

Experts predict summer 2021 will be a “tick time bomb.” Due to a mild winter, most parts of the country are already seeing more ticks this season than last year, as the tiny insects thrive in humidity.

Every summer, we hear the same warning: It’s going to be a bad year for ticks. But entomologists (a.k.a. insect experts) say that 2021 could live up to that message. In fact, The Weather Channel even referred to this year as a “tick time bomb.”

Robert Lockwood, associate certified entomologist for Ehrlich Pest Control, says experts are already noticing a thriving tick population in 2021. “Due to the mild winters and climate change, we are already seeing more ticks this season than last year,” he says.

Why does a wet winter matter? Ticks thrive in humidity. As a result, “regions that experienced wetter and warmer winters will have higher tick populations this spring and summer,” says Ben Hottel, Ph.D., technical services manager for Orkin.

The warmer and moister an environment becomes, “the faster the arthropod life cycle is completed,” explains Anna Berry, a board-certified entomologist and technical manager at Terminix. “When it gets very cold, very hot, or very dry, it may take longer to go from one stage of development to the next.” A wet winter and spring, along with warm temperatures, “provides the necessary warmth and humidity for fast development,” she says.

Ticks also need hosts like deer, mice, and birds, to survive, and those hosts also tend to thrive in warm, wet weather, Berry says.

The problem is, these minuscule pests aren’t just hanging out—they’re biting people, says Jean I. Tsao, Ph.D., associate professor in the Departments of Fisheries & Wildlife and Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Michigan State University. She cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that show tick bites are already trending higher than past years for this week.

“Although this is not the case for the entire U.S., this is the case for the South Central, Northeast, and Midwest regions,” Tsao says. “In these regions, the American dog tick is very active now; and in the Northeast and Midwest, the blacklegged tick is also active.” Both species are known to carry diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease, respectively.

What do ticks look like, again?

Most adult ticks are about the size of an apple seed or pencil eraser, but they can be as small as the size of a poppyseed. They don’t have wings, and are flat and oval until they have a blood meal, Berry says. The color varies depending on the type of tick; it can look grayish-white, brown, black, reddish-brown, or yellowish.

How to protect yourself from ticks

To prevent bites, the CDC recommends applying a tick repellent that contains at least 20% DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin and avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter (a.k.a. tick minefields). You can also treat your clothes and gear with a product that contains 0.5% permethrin, a powerful insecticide.

If you go hiking, walk in the center of trails instead of near brush, where ticks are likely to be hanging out. When you come inside after a day outdoors, try to shower within two hours to ensure any lingering critters are washed away. You’ll also want to do a close, full-body tick check with a mirror (or have someone you trust inspect you).

You can throw your clothes directly into the washer, but you’ll want to do so on high heat, the CDC says. If you don’t want to wash your clothes, toss them in your dryer and run the machine on high for 10 minutes to ensure ticks are killed.

You can protect your property from ticks by landscaping, Hottel says. “Keeping your lawn regularly mowed, creating a barrier between overgrown shrubs and your property, and reducing leaf litter will reduce the presence of all tick species,” he says.

What to do if you spot a tick on your body

If you find a tick on your body, the CDC recommends removing it as soon as possible. Here’s how:

Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin’s surface as possible.

-Pull upward with steady, even pressure. (Don’t twist or jerk the tick—that can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in your skin.)

-Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

-Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet or putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, and wrapping it tightly in tape. (Many people prefer to keep the tick, just in case they experience odd symptoms and need the insect for testing.)

It’s unclear what will happen with tick populations through the rest of the summer. Tsao says certain parts of the country are now starting to see a lack in moisture. “If the drought continues, then our tick boom most likely will subside,” she says.

Ticks can rehydrate if the air under leaf litter is moist, but if the humidity drops below 82-25% for an extended period, the ticks start to die. “The greater the frequency of these drying periods,” Tsao says, “the higher the mortality rate of the ticks.”

Until then, stay safe during those outdoor adventures!


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