Ticks are already out and everywhere


To the Editor:
As the weather warms and we start spending more time outdoors, I want to remind everyone that they need to protect themselves against ticks. As most people know, adult deer ticks are active all winter on warm days when the temperature rises above 40° or 45°F. For example, on March 31, I found almost 50 adult deer ticks at two sites on Chappaquiddick, which didn’t surprise me since it was a sunny day with temperatures in the mid-50s.

However, I also found 12 adult lone star ticks that same day, and have had reports of adult lone star ticks from two sites in Chilmark. This does surprise me; I don’t know anyone who would have expected lone star ticks to be active on Martha’s Vineyard in March. While the greatest number of lone star ticks are still concentrated in Aquinnah, parts of Chilmark, and on Chappaquiddick, I have found them in all six Island towns. 

The bottom line is that everyone on the Island needs to be wary of both lone star and deer ticks, and take proper precautions. If you have not already done so, get rid of accumulations of dead leaves and pine needles around your yard, as these provide habitat for the tiny nymphs of both tick species, which will be active soon. Lone star nymphs are usually present by the first or second week in April, while we expect to see deer tick nymphs around mid-May. 

When walking trails or working in the yard, the safest thing is to wear long pants and socks that have been treated with permethrin. You can buy pretreated clothing from Insect Shield (insectshield.com) and many outdoor clothing stores. You can also send your clothing to Insect Shield and it will treat it for you, or buy permethrin spray and treat your clothes yourself. Several stores on the Island, including Brickman’s and Basics, carry permethrin-treated socks. I believe that wearing treated socks, with long pants tucked into the socks, is the single most important thing you can do to avoid tick bites and tick-borne illnesses. Because they are so small and hard to see, most cases of tick diseases are caused by the larvae and nymph life stages. Since both tend to be down low, close to the ground, they have to crawl across your socks to reach your legs, and contact with the permethrin in the socks will slow them down   and eventually kill them before they can bite you.

Of course, it is also important to do daily tick checks on yourself and other family members, especially children. For more information, please consult the boards of health website at

mvboh.com. You can also email questions to me at mvticks@gmail.com.

Richard Johnson
Martha’s Vineyard Tick Program