(HOST) What’s the most repulsive pest you can imagine? Willem Lange has a nominee.
(LANGE) Just after the dog and I came into the house, I felt something itchy around the back of my neck. I scratched, but a few seconds later it returned.
Old guys often grow hair between their shoulder blades. The barber usually mows off what shows. I figured this was something she missed. I went into the bathroom, opened the two opposing mirrors, and took a look.
I wasn’t a hair. It was a tick. I reached around, batted it into the sink, and crushed it with a spoon. A minute later I found a second one.
I hate ticks! There’s something repugnant about creatures that suck blood, especially ones that hide on our bodies till they’re engorged. At least mosquitoes and black flies are in the open. Ticks are as sneaky as burglars.
At summer camp we used to play nocturnal games of capture-the-flag . Afterward, we had to strip while our counselors shone flashlights all over us. We did it for several nights because the ticks hid in our clothes. The technique for tick removal in those days was a lit cigarette.
Ticks have been around as long as mammals. Their existence should make rational people question the motives of an Intelligent Designer. They’re arachnids, like spiders. After hatching, they go through three stages – larva, nymph, and adult – and at each stage they need a meal of blood in order to move on. This is where we tangle.
Ticks once dined only on wild mammals. With the spread of suburbs into the woods, they’ve found us and our pets to be good hosts. They cling quietly to a branch or a clump of grass, holding their two barbed front feet before them, ready to grab. This is called “questing.” It’s quite different from the questing we do when we suspect an infestation.
Ticks are very effective at transmitting diseases because an infected mother can pass pathogens into her eggs. The current scourge is Lyme Disease. Its transmitting agent, the deer tick, feeds on the blood of birds, deer, pets, and people. With global warming, song birds are spreading north, and infected ticks are now found in Canada.
There isn’t much we can do to keep ticks off. DEET works all right. Tucking your trouser legs into your socks helps, and checking yourself after potential exposure. You can feel them when they’re still crawling around. Once ticks begin to feed, you’ve got to see them or feel the lump, when they begin to swell with blood.
A pair of tweezers, wielded carefully so as not to tear the body of the tick from the embedded head, will get them off you. If you spot a circular red rash around any bite, it’s time to call the doctor. Check your kids. They’ll hate it till you find a tick on them. Be sure your pets are protected. When you pat them, rub them all over, feeling for lumps where there shouldn’t be any.
Ahh — spring brings many joys but ticks are not among them. But cheer up; they’ll be gone in eight months.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire. I gotta get back to work.