Greetings and salutations once again my fellow insect fanatics!
So, it might be because I spend a silly amount of time wading through prairies and smashing my face up against trees and pawing through piles of rotting wood and crawling into the dark corners of basements, but I find a lot of insects on my body. Like, daily. Spiders, flies, ladybugs, inch worms, crickets, caterpillars…like, every day. Normally, I don’t mind these little six and eight legged visitors warming themselves on my skin or hitching a ride to a better hunting spot, but there is one visitor in particular that I just cannot cotton to and must expel from my epidermis immediately!
What ever could it be, you may wonder?
Today let’s have a discussion about some thing buggy that bugs me and you, namely, TICKS! Itty, bitty, bitey, blood-suckers just laying in wait for a tasty morsel to wander by. Deer, racoons, and YOU!
Look at this adorable little tick! Look how cute and round and smiley…awwww, sweet little tick, right? Wrong! Ticks are not sweet and not smiley and not adorably round and purple like a grape. In reality, ticks are often seed-shaped with eight specialized legs and some pretty awesomely terrifying mouth parts.
Their legs are truly amazing. They are designed to make them very clingy. First, as they hang out on the tips of tall grasses or tree leaves, bouncing in the breeze until something exuding some warm and fuzzy body heat happens by. As our warm-blooded body brushes said grass or leaf, the tick grabs onto them, going along for the ride. This is where their special feet come in and are grossly cool.
Their little feet are designed just so their prey can’t feel them! Creepy, right? But such a good design! They have tiny little ‘u’ shaped feet that are so fine and good at their job, even the sensitive hairs on your arms can’t detect them. This means they can wander all over their prey totally unbeknownst to them until they find a really soft, tender spot to sink their little mouth parts into.
Now that is what a tick looks like! Okay, so the disgustingly cool thing about tick mouths is the way they bite. They don’t plunge in all-of-a-sudden like a mosquito, oh no. Instead, they have to work just a little bit harder to get to your juicy, delicious blood beneath your many layers of tough skin. The ticks have specialized parts on their mouths that they use to sweep and sweep (kind of like rowing a boat with your arms looks) and brush their way down and through the layers of your skin until they reach blood. Gross! Amazing! I love it!
Once they manage to brush their way through all those pesky layers they can bite into you, but even then their mouth parts are so small it takes a while for them to actually get a good sucking flow going. So much effort for the tick!
As you know, tick bites can carry a host of diseases, among them Lyme’s Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. So we worry, don’t we, when we play outside or go hiking or camping? But there is good news!
From the time you brush against that tall grass and pick up your unwelcome hitchhiker, to the time the little bugger has finally managed to pick a sweet spot and sink in, actually takes a little time. Up to a couple of hours, in fact. So tick bites are super preventable! Yay!
So what do you do?
Bug spray! Woohoo! We clever humans have long since invented aerosol prevention that is extremely effective. Just make sure it’s got some Deet in it. After using your bug spray there’s one more possibly even more important thing you can do to keep yourself safe and healthy.
TICK CHECKS! Sometimes sweat or swimming or rain can wash away our bug spray, but a good and thorough tick check can save the day. Don’t be shy about it. Many ticks can be easy to see, but some nymphs (young ticks) and particularly the dreaded Deer Tick can be virtually impossible to tell apart from a freckle. Poppy seed sized! So tiny! So use your eyes, use your hands, use the buddy system, and check everywhere, every day. It really takes so little time and is well worth it.
I’m a big proponent of tick checks. So much so that I have composed an actual tick-check-themed poem just to help you remember what to do and how important it is! So here goes…
An Ode to Checking for Ticks
Finally the time is here!
The sun is warm, the sky is clear!
It’s time for hiking and biking too,
Rowing and fishing in a canoe.
Parties and picnics ‘til well after dark,
Day after day we’ll play in the park.
Crickets are chirping and birdies they sing,
But please remember this one thing:
Amongst the ladybugs and bees
Is a nasty pest causing some unease.
She makes no sound of any kind,
And her tiny size makes her hard to find.
Her feet are designed so you don’t even feel
When she’s grabbed your knee, elbow, or heel.
And when you find one in your hair….
It means she CRAWLED all the way up there!
Mosquito bites itch, bee stings hurt a lot,
But that’s nothing compared to the bite this girl’s got!
She’ll bury her head way down into your skin,
And hang out for hours before she begins
By sweeping her barbed little fangs forth and back
Again and again in slow-motion attack.
She buries them further with every brush,
(You can’t feel this at all so she knows there’s no rush).
Finally, when she’s totally stuck,
Her feeding mouth plunges and she starts to suck.
Your blood flows into her and she into you.
For multiple days, exchanging of goo,
Germs and bacteria, saliva and blood,
Her body engorged now, the color of mud.
Finally full she drops off with no fear.
You may not even know she ever was near
Until you get fever, joint pain, or a cough,
Rashes, fatigue, body aches….had enough?
All of this is so easy to skip!
After being outside simply go in and strip!
Get all the way down to your birthday suit
And check every inch from your hair to your foot.
Use your mirrors and fingers, don’t skip a pore.
It doesn’t take long and you know what it’s for.
Your health and safety are important to all,
So in spring, through summer, and well into fall
When you go outside put on your bug spray
And do your tick check at the end of the day!
Until next time, my insect oriented friends, have fun, be safe, wear your bug spray, and check for ticks! And don’t forget to come back frequently for updates on Tony’s shows and the progress of the Gateway Science Center. As always, you can lend your support here, at the Go Fund Me site, or just by spreading the word!