To the Editor:
Like you, I have been enjoying the end of winter and the arrival of warm spring days. However, my pleasure is colored with a sense of foreboding, for I realize that the arrival of spring also heralds the start of the serious tick season. While adult deer ticks have been active on warm days throughout the winter (yes, you can get Lyme disease in February), the warming days will bring them out in greater numbers. For example, last week we collected more than 75 adult deer ticks in one hour on a warm Saturday. I am also hearing that people are already finding large numbers of dog ticks on themselves and their pets.
Nonetheless, my greatest concern is the deer tick nymphs, which generally are active by mid-May. However, this Monday I received an email from a Chilmark resident saying he had found seven ticks on himself this weekend, including a lone star. To my surprise, when I looked at the ticks there were an adult female deer tick and an adult female lone star tick and nymph deer ticks. This is by far the earliest deer tick nymphs I have ever seen.
Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed and dog ticks even larger and therefore fairly easy to detect. Nymph deer ticks are about the size of a poppy seed and very difficult to see or feel even when they are on you or your pet. Deer tick nymphs are estimated to be responsible for 85 percent of all human Lyme disease cases.
Because they are so tiny the deer tick nymphs need to stay in moist areas like dead leaves or pine needles where the humidity is higher and they can wait for a mouse or other small mammal to pass within reach. Therefore, it is very important to remove accumulations of dead leaves and pine needles from your yard before the deer tick nymphs become active. Hopefully you have already done so. If not, it may not be too late, if you are very careful. It is imperative that you wear permethrin-treated clothing or a good tick repellent on your skin if you are raking leaves, since raking leaves will only increase your chances of coming in contact with the deer tick nymphs if they are already active in your area.
Once the showers slow down and the ground dries out a little I will be checking for deer tick nymphs at sites across the Island. Hopefully by next week we will have a better idea if they are already out in numbers or if the Chilmark nymphs were an anomaly.
Either way it is time to start wearing your permethrin-treated protective clothing and footwear. If you haven’t already done so, spray your walking and gardening shoes with permethrin. Finally, start doing those tick checks on yourself, your children and your pets. If you choose to spray your yard, try to get it done between now and early May.
The Cape Cod Extension website has a series of very informative and entertaining videos available at: https://www.capecodextension.org/ticks/
Please don’t be hesitant to enjoy all the wonders of spring and summer on Martha’s Vineyard but remember to be tick smart while you do so.
Richard Johnson, director
Martha’s Vineyard Tick Program