1. Do ticks drop on you from trees?
TERC Answer: No! Ticks don't fly, hop, run, or even move all that quickly. Depending on the life stage and species, they quest for hosts anywhere from ground level to about knee-high on vegetation, and then tend to crawl up to find a place to bite.
2. Before this year I had never seen a wild tick (and I am someone who likes to visit the hiking trail pretty often). But now, probably thanks to the mild winter, I saw my first tick a few months ago crawling on my arm. As much as that was panic inducing, just a couple of weeks ago my husband and I visited a new hiking "trail" that was very unmaintained, and thus I came home with well over 40 large ticks all over me (not to mention the rest in the car). In a word: traumatizing. So now I am phobic to even walk by the pond behind my suburban home, let alone hit the trails again. I am working hard to get my facts straight so I can prevent this kind of horror from being repeated. However, I am getting a lot of conflicting information regarding whether or not ticks dwell in trees and will "jump" onto the heads of passerby. Some people say ticks don't jump from the trees (as this website says), others say that they do attack from the trees, and still others say that ticks will climb some shorter trees but not necessarily jump from them. All these varying reports come from people who self-identify as experts, so I don't know who to believe. All I know is that if a leaf so much as falls from a tree onto my head, I panic now. Elana, Chicago, IL
TERC Answer: People find ticks higher up on their body because all ticks crawl upwards. Ticks are not designed to jump; they just do not jump at all, and are rarely found waiting for hosts much above the level of their preferred hosts. So, for the ticks you likely encountered in the upper mid west at this time of year (most probably American dog ticks), their preferred natural host are racoons, skunks and coyotes (as well as untreated dogs and cats in the domestic setting). The body height of these animals are all about 8-12 or so inches above the ground, so biologically, it makes sense for the ticks to wait for these hosts at about that height. Once they latch on, they quickly climb up. When humans (accidentally) encounter these ticks waiting for their preferred hosts, the ticks latch on as well (usually on the legs, unless you have reached down with your arm), and begin crawling upwards. We have an application that you might be interested in using to find the most likely places on the body that different tick species and feeding stages are likely to be found attached to humans : Tick Bite Locator.
3. A guest at my home let his dog run in the woods. After the dog was back in our house for some time the owner found ten deer ticks on the dog and on himself. We vacuumed the house but I am concerned about more ticks being in the house, furniture etc. How long can a tick live in a home if it is in the furniture, rugs etc.? N.W.
TERC Answer: Unlike some other tick species, deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are particularly susceptible to desiccation, or drying out. They can only survive short periods in places where the atmospheric moisture content (relative humidity) is less than say 90%. In one experiment, most of the nymphal deer ticks exposed to 75% humidity for 8 hours died, even after being returned to 96% humidity. In a typical house environment, unfed deer ticks are not likely to survive even 24 hours. Ticks on moist clothing in a hamper can survive 2-3 days. Ticks that have taken a blood meal may survive a bit longer but certainly not the 30+ days it takes to mature and bite again or lay eggs.
4. I was present at a "Tick Seminar" a few months ago and remembered a Professor talking about a "white Flag" to use as an indicator to see if a property has any ticks. Could you tell me what kind of white fabric to use for this? And also about what size to cut the flag? James S., Worcester, MA
TERC Answer: First and foremost : Check yourself for tick encounters after sampling; you are exposing yourself to ticks while sampling!
To sample nymphal deer ticks in woods and around the perimeter of residential properties, TERC's tick crew drags a tick flag made of white flannel cloth; the cloth is about 0.25 sq meters (about 4’ X 2’8"). We find that flannel is a great fabric for ticks to latch onto and the white color makes it easiest for us to see the ticks on the fabric. The fabric is attached to foot long wooden pole which can be made by cutting a broom stick to the appropriate length. We use velcro to attach the flag to the pole; one side of the velcro is sewn onto the flag and the other side is glued to the pole. This allows the flag to pull off the pole if it gets caught on briars or sticks without tearing the flag. It also makes it easier to take the flags off to wash. You could use a staple gun to attach the fabric if you’re not good at sewing.
In our surveillance, we drag the flag through deer tick habitat for 30 seconds then stop and check both sides of the flag. This is repeated 90 times per sampling site. In a residential yard, we would advise doing at least 15 or 20 samples—and if you sample prior to spray treatment between May 25 and June 25 in the proper habitat (shady, leaf litter, humid) and don’t collect any poppy seed-sized nymphs, then the risk of tick encounter is likely to be relatively low. It’s very critical though to be sure that the flag is in near constant contact with the leaf litter substrate. That’s where the nymphal deer ticks are. Other ticks and other bugs also may latch onto the flag. Remember to use our tick identification chart to identify local species’ of ticks and their life stages.
5. I read somewhere that a tick can follow you up to a mile and I've read other places that they can only follow you for a few feet. I'm curious to know how far your average tick can crawl for a host. Malinda, Iowa
TERC Answer: It depends on the species of tick. Some, like the blacklegged (aka. deer) tick are very passive host-seekers; even in the adult stage, they rarely move horizontally more than a few meters. Instead, they typically climb up onto vegetation to wait for a host to pass by, then when they start to dessicate, they move down into the more humid leaf litter to re-hydrate. They may incrementally be drawn towards a host-source, like the shady edge of a pasture or a regularly-used deer trail or parkland path, if there are strong enough host stimuli.
In your region, American dog ticks or possibly Lone Star ticks are a bit more aggressive and will travel towards host stimuli like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Sometimes this brings them to edges of roads or parking lots due to auto emissions. On several occasions we have seen American dog ticks follow a regular source of carbon dioxide (houses with a prevailing wind blowing mostly in one direction) which ended up attracting them for perhaps a few hundred meters to the house--the ticks were literally crawling up the outside walls towards the window screens and doors in one notable case. Typically, we would not characterize this movement in the scale of a mile, and certainly ticks don't accomplish this longer range movement in one directed "quest".
6. In terms of yard management... We are planning on doing a few perimeter sprays this season (Talstar). In addition to that, does a bark mulch, wood chip, or gravel border do anything more as a barrier against ticks, or does it just serve as a clear, visual reminder as to where the tick zone begins and ends? Does the wood chip barrier add anything that the perimeter spray/granules do not, other than a visual reminder to humans? We have about an acre sized yard to border with chips, which will be somewhat expensive to keep up, but worth it to us if it does more to protect us from ticks than the perimeter sprays/granules alone. The forest starts immediately at the yard's edge, and already serves as a clear visual reminder. Jennifer C., Massachusetts
TERC Answer: There is probably little additional "tick killing" that comes from the wood chip border concept. It really is a means to help define the tick-risky edge. You would be amazed how frequently that narrow risk zone is "breached" without even thinking. You might consider it for certain areas in your yard, especially if it is near play areas for kids. When combined with treatment, it provides a set-back of the risky edge habitat.