Prepare for ‘huge’ number of ticks


To the Editor: 

I suspect that many of you noticed the huge jump in the numbers of deer tick nymphs right after the Memorial Day weekend. In the 10 years I have been studying ticks on Martha’s Vineyard, I have never seen anything close to the hundreds of deer tick nymphs I collected Miyamoti disease last week.

Deer tick nymphs are black and about the size of a poppy seed. If you look at them through a hand lens, you will see they are somewhat pear-shaped. Lone star nymphs are lighter in color, tan or reddish, rounder, and usually slightly larger. Lone star ticks also move much faster than deer ticks.

Generally between 10 and 30 percent of deer tick nymphs carry Lyme disease, around 10 percent carry babesiosis, and less than 5 percent carry anaplasmosis and other diseases, including miyamoti disease and deer tick fever. Because adult deer ticks have fed twice, they are twice as likely to carry these diseases, e.g., generally between 30 and 60 percent of adult deer ticks carry Lyme disease.

May, June, and early July tend to be a particularly dangerous times because the nymphs are so hard to see. Because deer tick nymphs are down low, in the dead leaves and pine needles looking for a small mammal to feed on, permethrin-treated socks are very effective at this time of year. Both Basics and Brickman’s sell treated socks made by Insect Shield. You can also purchase them online directly from Insect Shield.

I highly recommend wearing these socks, with your pant cuffs tucked in, whenever you are in potential deer tick habitat. If you are wearing shorts, you can spray your bare legs with a repellent containing 30 percent Deet, such as Deep Woods Off. Even with these precautions, it is still important that you do a thorough tick check of yourself and your children anytime you have spent time outdoors.

For more information, including what to do if you are bitten by a tick, please refer to the Boards of Health website, You can also email me at if you have questions about ticks.

Tick bites are a serious problem, but if you are smart and careful, you can still go out and enjoy all the Vineyard has to offer. Just do it safely!

Richard Johnson

West Tisbury