It could be a banner year for ticks

Saturday, May 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FORT DODGE, Iowa (AP) _ Iowans enjoying a walk in the woods or a camping trip this summer could bring home some unwelcome critters.

It could be a banner year for ticks.

No one really tracks the numbers that would show a tick population increase, but conditions are favorable for the blood-sucking mites, said Ken Holscher, an assistant professor in the entomology department at Iowa State University.

A mild winter probably failed to thin the numbers, he said. Then mild spring weather prompted both ticks and people to be more active, increasing the chance for an encounter.

``I like to say ``ticks don't find people, people find ticks,'' Holscher said.

Ticks typically ``hunker down'' in tall grassy areas or shaded woodlands where humidity is high, he said. An increase in carbon dioxide and ground vibrations alert them to the possibility of potential prey. They scamper up a blade of grass and extend their legs into he air. Then the tick waits.

``Wearing light colors won't repeal them,'' Holscher said. ``But it will make them easier to spot as they crawl around on you. They don't fall from trees. They start at ground level, and if you find one on the top of your head, it crawled its way up.''

When venturing out into the woods or grassy field, Holscher suggests wearing long pants and hiking boots or tennis shoes and thick socks. Then tuck the pant legs into the books or socks.

Ticks can grab on to the pants, but a person is more likely to see them before they can attach themselves. Repellants can be used, but Holscher said they should be only applied to clothing and then only from the knee down.

While doing graduate work in Oklahoma, Holscher said he discovered a sure-fire way to stop ticks in their tracks _ masking tape. He wrapped the sticky side out around his pant legs where they were tucked in his boots.

No tick has ever made it across the tape, he said.

Holscher said if a tick embeds itself, the best way to remove it is with tweezers.

There are hundreds of kinds of ticks, but two common ones found in the Midwest are the deer tick and the dog tick. The deer tick can spread Lyme disease, while the dog tick can spread diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever.