Two weeks ago, some of us on the North Shore of Boston were wearing shorts and flip-flops. A limited stretch of unseasonably warm temperatures once or twice during the winter months isn’t unusual and is a welcomed respite for often cold-weary New Englanders. Blacklegged ticks (commonly called deer ticks) also love the warm breaks, and the females take advantage of them to resume their quest for a host animal so they can lay their eggs and complete their life cycle.
The blacklegged tick life cycle is complicated and takes three different hosts and two years to complete. Eggs laid in the spring hatch in the summer into the tiny larval stage. These ticks are not infected with any diseases at this time and people are often bitten by them and never notice because they are so small. The small mammals they feed on are often reservoirs of disease and once infected, the tick stays infected for the rest of its life. The larval ticks burrow down into leaf litter and other organic matter to molt into the next stage, the nymph.
The nymphs emerge in late spring and feed through the end of summer. This is the stage most likely to transmit disease because they also are very small and easily overlooked. Adults developed from these nymphs emerge in the fall and seek one last host on which to feed before laying eggs and beginning the whole cycle over again.
One study in Connecticut found that roughly 15% of sampled nymph ticks were infected with Lyme disease. The percentage of adults infected rocketed to nearly 50% of sampled ticks in the same study. While more adult ticks are infected than nymph ticks, they are somewhat less likely to spread disease because they are larger and easier to spot so they can be removed before the disease in transmitted.
Most people in New England are very familiar with the need to check themselves, their kids, and their pets for the small, nymph stage ticks during the summer months and the larger adults starting in late summer throughout the fall.
The one phase of the life most people don’t pay much attention to is the adult phase that can still be active in the winter months. As seen above, the goal of an adult tick is to feed and lay eggs. They will continue to quest for a host until temperatures are consistently below 35°F. Freezing temperatures will force them to seek shelter in leaf litter, woodpiles, and other organic matter to go dormant and spend the winter.
They are protected by an insulating layer of snow that can keep them several degrees warmer than the ambient air temperature. For the cold to begin to impact tick populations, a couple factors must come into play. There must be a sustained number of days below 10°F and a lack of insulating snow cover. These conditions are seldom sustained long enough in the North Shore area for it to have any impact on the tick populations. Once temperatures begin to warm and the snow is gone, those hungry adults will re-emerge and try to find a host so they can be ready when egg-laying time comes in the spring. So be sure to do a thorough tick check on any days you or your pets are outside on any of the warmer winter days.
Get More Info From The Pros!
Looking for more information on tick control or just ready to let the professionals take over your lawn care needs? The Grassmaster Plus team is ready and willing to answer any questions you have and can provide you a free quote on your lawn care services for the season. Contact our local office today!