Many insects are troublesome by inflicting bites and stings. Sometimes this action can be severe, and other times not problematic.

Fire ants, hornets, yellow jackets, and mosquitoes are quite common, and many have unpleasant encounters with them. One area of concern is ticks, which are not insects but in a class of organisms called arachnids, including spiders, scorpions, and mites.

Ticks spread many diseases, and some be serious, though most bites do not transmit these pathogens. The use of several methods will reduce the likelihood of encountering them.

Ticks are external parasites that require a blood meal for survival, much like mosquitoes, and in addition to humans, they feed on other animals, birds, and some reptiles. They have a simple life cycle. Ticks hatch into a six-legged nymph, which is their immature stage.

When they encounter a host, they attach themselves and begin feeding. Once they finish, they may stay on the host for some time or drop off it. By this point, ticks have eight legs. As adults, they will continue to seek out blood meals. Their favorite habitats are brushy or areas with high grass. They require moisture and prefer bottomlands that are humid, thick vegetation, and an abundance of deer and other wild animals.

Several species of ticks bite people: lone-star tick, American dog tick, and black-legged tick. The lone-star tick is the most common in our area. It has long mouthparts and a white spot on its back. They favor brushy bottomland areas where deer frequent but can be found in any habitat.

American dog tick has shorter mouthparts and diffuse white coloring on their backs. They prefer dogs but will feed on humans. The black-legged tick is smaller than the other two and does not have any white markings on its body. It feeds on many mammals and humans.

Ticks can transmit numerous diseases. One of the most well-known is Lyme disease that is caused by a bacteria-like organism. The black-legged tick is the primary vector, especially ones in the nymphal stage. The first stage of the disease is the appearance of a “bull’s-eye” rash where the bite occurred along with fever, headache, and sore muscles, although these symptoms do not always happen.

The later stages can occur weeks, months, or even years afterward, causing severe joint pain-causing permanent harm to bones and cartilage if not treated. It affects the heart and nervous system as well. Lyme disease is quite rare in Georgia and is more problematic in the Northeast.

Another one is Rocky Mountain spotted fever caused by a similar microbe as Lyme disease spread by the American dog tick. The condition is the most common tick-borne illness in the Southeast. It has a mortality rate of three to five percent. It causes fever, headache, bloodshot eyes, and a rash, which starts on the hands and feet that gradually spread to other parts of the body.

The best way to avoid contracting these diseases is to keep ticks from biting. When in tick-infested areas, wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts. Tuck the long pants into your socks. Wear a hat to keep them off your head. Use a repellent that contains the chemical “DEET.”

Follow label directions in applying the chemical. However, spraying the clothes and apply to the skin is necessary to reduce the likelihood of receiving a tick bite. If you have pets, use an approved tick repellent to protect them. Keep your grass cut and apply an insecticide to your landscape that will reduce ticks. Please follow all label directions when using pesticides.

Ticks are troublesome and can cause serious, debilitating illnesses. By taking a few simple steps, you can reduce the chances of encountering them.

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Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with UGA Extension Gwinnett.

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