Forget bears in springtime, it’s those eight-legged, flat-bodied creatures – not quite insects, not quite spiders – that have me quaking in my hiking boots. As the snow melts and warm, dry, south-facing slopes start appealing to hikers, ticks climb into action.
Ticks are arachnids – meaning they are in the same class as eight-legged spiders as opposed to the six-legged insects. They are external parasites that find a host – sheep, moose, deer, you… – and bury their heads into the skin to suck blood.
If you’re starting to wriggle, it’s understandable – these little bloodsuckers are gross. The body of a female tick can swell up to the size of a kernel of corn or more as it feeds, head buried in your flesh. That’s not the bad part though – ticks can also carry diseases such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, among others.
Ticks love the warm, dry, south-facing slopes. Contrary to popular belief, ticks don’t drop out of trees. They climb a foot or two on grasses and low bushes and then hang out with legs outstretch hoping for a lift. Once onboard, they don’t dig in right away, but wander slowly around searching for just the right spot – kind of like Goldilocks, only not nearly as cute.
Ticks like hairy places and once they find the favored location, they kindly make sure you don’t feel a thing by injecting an anaesthetic before starting to feed. Once full, they pull out and head off to… who cares where!
- Reduce the chance of picking up one of these hitchhikers by walking in the middle of the trail and try to avoid bushwalking whenever possible in early spring.
- Keep your arms and legs covered. Pants tucked into socks may look geeky, but it works.
- Consider using an insect repellent with DEET. Although it’s a harsh compound, it seems to do the trick.
- Check yourself and your hiking partners, including pets, for ticks after hikes.
- If you find an imbedded tick, it gets a little sticky. Ticks “glue” themselves onto your body, so pulling them out is difficult. Use a pair of tweezers, grab the tick as close to your skin as possible and pull straight out. Make sure all of the head is removed. If symptoms appear (severe headaches, fever, chills, muscle pain, rash), see your doctor immediately.