Monday, May 13, 2013

Phenology: Dog Ticks

It's been a cool spring here--daytime highs still just edging up into the sixties, most days--and insect activity has been low. The tent caterpillars I saw wandering around the Cat Sanctuary yesterday, one of them apparently contemplating the beauty of our first iris blossom, remind me that it's time to write the updated article about Gypsy Moths; some readers may be seeing gypsy moth hatchlings by now. I have seen some butterflies: Spring Azure, coppers, those little dark skippers, checkerspots, Tiger and Zebra Swallowtails; and some paper wasps, Polistes fuscatus and P. carolina, and one fly, and lots and lots of fungus gnats. This is the first year I've had gnats fly into my eyes and nose while walking along a paved road.

Flowers: paulownia, wisteria, some azaleas, rhododendrons, dandelions, buttercups, shepherdspurse, celandine. Locust trees, which haven't bloomed well in recent years, are blooming beautifully this year. Violets and vincas are almost over; clover is starting to bloom. Hepaticas, fleabane daisies, and regular (oxeye) daisies are blooming.

But some of you may need a warning about ticks. Tiny deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are the species usually blamed for transmitting Lyme Disease, but dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) have been very active and abundant this year.

The way to avoid picking up diseases from tick bites is to be vigilant. Change clothes, bathe, and at least thoroughly comb your hair after you've been outdoors...the same precautions I use at the Cat Sanctuary to limit the amount of mold spores I track in from the woods also protect humans from tick bites.

Dog ticks attack cats and humans as eagerly as they do dogs...the difference is that cats and humans can usually find and kill the vermin before they bite us. The task is harder for long-haired cats. I personally prefer to clip long-haired cats' coats if they're outdoors in summer.

It's easier to remove a dying tick that is trying to move away than a tick that is actively biting into your or your pet's skin. There are several safe, painless ways to motivate a tick to move away, but none of them is 100% guaranteed--the tick may die before it can completely detach itself. Graybelle, whose human didn't want her coat clipped and who once needed help to remove a tick from her mouth, liked the idea of smothering a tick in olive oil. I've found it cheaper and equally efficient to dip the tick in's a good idea to disinfect the wound with alcohol anyway.

When most of us in Gate City, Virginia, first read about Lyme Disease, we read that it was found in New England. Some doctors haven't kept up with the news that this disease has spread. Last summer the Cat Sanctuary temporarily lost a volunteer to Lyme Disease, and a neighbor's four-year-old child nearly died because a doctor refused to believe that the child had Lyme Disease and prescribed the wrong sort of medicine. And who knows how many of our (majority demographic group) senior citizens may be suffering unnecessarily because the symptoms of Lyme Disease can be mistaken for a combination of a bad cold and senility.

Everybody knows what ticks look like and I doubt that anybody wants to look at pictures of them, but here's the Wikipedia page for dog ticks: