© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ticks are back in Monroe County. Here's how to avoid the tiny pests

Blacklegged ticks on a yellow background.
Adobe Stock
Blacklegged ticks are known to carry Lyme disease and other infectious illnesses.

After a mild winter, warm weather has arrived in Rochester and with it, the local ticks have emerged in force.

But the ticks that people are already finding on their pets and in tall grass aren’t part of some population boom brought on by the non-winter, said Brian Leydet, an assistant professor of disease ecology and epidemiology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. They are adults who didn’t get to feed before hibernating.

Now they are starving and out for blood.

“What we’re seeing right now, because of this weather, we’re seeing the emergence of these really, really hungry ticks, and if they don’t find something to eat, they die,” Leydet said.

There’s a well-established correlation between the effects of climate change and the expansion of ticks into new areas, and that’s been playing out in New York, in part because it is easier for adult ticks to survive milder winters.

Since ticks can carry and transmit Lyme disease, the number of reported cases in dogs illustrates that long-term growth. In 2012, Monroe County veterinarians reported roughly 1,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in dogs, according to data compiled by the Companion Animal Parasite Council. A decade later, the number had more than doubled, growth that was disproportionate to a corresponding rise in tests given.

So while the tick population has grown over the years, Leydet said the current size of the local population has more to do with things that happened a year or two ago than the conditions over the past few months.

It all comes down to the tick’s life cycle. Before hibernating, adult ticks will seek out a meal of blood to sustain them through the winter. When the warm weather hit this year, the ticks that didn’t have a chance to feed set out looking for a warm-blooded buffet. For them, it will be the last time in their brief lives that they’ll feed.

It’s likely people are taking notice because they aren’t yet thinking about ticks yet when they go outside, Leydet said.

“They’re not in their tick mode right now,” Leydet said. “So that’s why you’re seeing these reports of people, animals inundated with these ticks. This is the adult blacklegged tick that’s super hungry and trying to find his last blood meal.”

Female blacklegged ticks generally lay their eggs in May. The eggs hatch into larvae during the summer, and the juveniles tend to attach to and feed on small mammals such as mice.

But the best bet to avoid Lyme from tick bites is prevention. That means wearing light-colored clothing and tucking your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks, as well as performing tick checks after being outdoors. Experts also recommend using an insect repellent containing DEET and either treating outdoor apparel with permethrin or buying clothing already treated with it.

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.