the latest on backyard tick research, with dr. neeta connally

IT MAY BE the so-called garden offseason in many zones of the United States, but I’m not sure anyone told the ticks that. Ticks, and how those of us who spend time outdoors can avoid potentially harmful effects of contact with them, are a subject I’m asked a lot about and have a lot of questions about myself. I asked a leading tick researcher for nearly 20 years, Dr. Neeta Connally of Western Connecticut State University, to help answer some of them.

In the fall of 2016, Dr. Connally won a $1.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control to fund a four-year study, in coordination with the University of Rhode Island, to gauge the effectiveness of various tick control methods in the areas around people’s homes. She’ll tell us more about the angles being pursued, and also about self-care topics, from treated clothing to the use of topical repellents and more.

Read along as you listen to the Dec. 11, 2017 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

backyard tick research, with dr. neeta connally



Q. A little context first: You’re in the Northeast, where a lot of the cases of Lyme in the United States occur, but there are multiple tick species around the nation. You’re really in a hotbed state, you and the University of Rhode Island, yes?

A. Yes, we are. The Northeast reports the majority of Lyme cases in the United States annually.

Q. I was surprised to see how many species there are in different areas of the country—I mean, because we’re all very region-centric, I guess. We only know what’s around us.

A. Oh, absolutely, yes. Depending on where you’re located in the country, there are various species of ticks that will bite humans, and then there’s a whole list of other ticks that tend to be very species-specific, that is, they only feed on particular animals.

Q. Do all you tick researchers around the country have an annual convention and share data?

A. [Laughter.] Well, sure. There’s not an annual tick meeting, per se, but in fact we just had our national entomology annual meeting, and there are many tick enthusiasts, you could say, at those meetings.

Q. So let’s talk about the integrated tick management, or ITM, study you’re conducting, that you received the CDC grant for, and a little bit about how you devised the avenues of study, and what you’re hoping to do with that.

A. You know that Lyme disease was first described about 40 years ago, now. Since that time, there’s been a lot of research aimed at how we could reduce human exposure to the black-legged tick, that is the tick that transmits Lyme disease to humans. We know now that this tick–it is the black-legged tick; many people also know it as the deer tick–not only transmits the agent of Lyme disease, but it also transmits four other human disease-causing agents in the Northeastern United States. It transmits Lyme. It transmits the agent of babesiosis, which is a malaria-like disease. It transmits the agent of human anaplasmosis, Powassin encephalitis virus, and then a newly described bacterial disease that’s caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia miyamotoi.

We know that this one tick actually is capable of transmitting a lot of different disease-causing agents. There’s been a lot of research at preventing, or aimed at reducing backyard ticks, and reducing our exposures to ticks. Still, 40 years later, we’re still dealing with the problem of Lyme disease, and now these new emerging infections. We’re still not great at preventing disease. We now are realizing, after a lot of research, that just killing the tick or just avoiding the tick is not enough, if we don’t really understand what’s going on with human behavior, too.

More of the more current study is aimed at Lyme disease prevention, and look at not only the tick and the environment, but also how humans interact with the environment.

The Backyard Integrated Tick Management study is the study that you’re referring to, which is a Centers for Disease Control funded study. This study is actually a cooperative agreement, which means that we collaborate with the CDC, and we also have our study partners at the University of Rhode Island, who with Dr. Tom Mather, who runs the Tick Encounter Resource Center, and the Center for Vector-Borne Disease there at URI.

We’re all working collaboratively to implement a backyard tick study, because we know that, in the Northeastern United States, most people, who are exposed to the black-legged tick that causes them to get sick, are most likely exposed in their own backyard. We find that people tend to take a lot of precautions when they go out hiking or camping …

Q. Yes.

A. …but maybe they’re not as diligent, right, about doing those practices in their own backyards. But we know that backyards can often be a great habitat for the tick that causes Lyme and these other infections. Particularly, these are backyards that have an edge that is brushy or forested. Here in Connecticut, much of the state is really chopped up into these suburban settings, where homes are in the woods. We have these nice little private yards, and we have maybe three sides of the backyard that might be adjacent to a deciduous forest.

Q. These are creatures that like some leaf litter, don’t they?

A. They love leaf litter, yes, so when you have a forest edge, you have a lot of dead leaves on the ground. These ticks, they need a very high humidity to survive, and so they love to hunker down under that leaf litter. We find a lot of ticks in the backyard landscape, right at that wooded edge and into the woods, but also migrating in, from that wooded edge, into the lawn area as well. We really have been focusing our efforts at how we can not only reduce ticks in the backyard, but how we can also reduce human exposures to ticks in the backyard.

Q. What are you testing—what are some of the parts of the study? Are you spraying or are you putting out … I’ve read about bait boxes. What are you doing?

A. Yes, absolutely. We did work on a spray study in 2011 and 2012. This is in three states. We worked with the CDC and health departments, in Connecticut and New York and in Maryland, to implement just a spray study, where we enrolled all these households into this placebo-controlled study, where some got spray and some got water. Then we followed the people in the households to see how many of them got sick or had a tick bite.

We were able to reduce the number of ticks by applying a single springtime yard spray. That’s an application of pesticide around the perimeter where lawn meets woods. We were able to reduce the ticks fairly well, but we were unable to actually show that it reduced human disease.

In this new study, the Integrated Tick Management study--we actually are affectionately calling it “the bite-em study”—the Backyard Integrated Tick Management study–we are implementing an integrated approach, so that means we’re using more than one approach to manage the tick. We are implementing a single springtime application of a pesticide that we know is very effective at killing ticks. It’s a targeted application, so we apply it where the lawn meets woods, into the woods, and around risky ornamentals, such as groundcover like pachysandra, that may be really nice habitat for ticks. We’re not spraying the entire yard. We do a targeted application.

In addition to that spray application, we are installing these rodent-targeted tick control devices, that’s the bait box that you just mentioned. There are homes enrolled in the study in the study in western Connecticut and also in southern Rhode Island. These homes are going to be treated either singly or as a treated cluster, meaning more than one house in a row, that are next door to one another, so that we can see not only if this integrated approach of using two methods of controlling the ticks works, but also if applying it at a larger scale, at adjacent households, will actually do a better job at reducing the ticks and reducing the number of ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria, because by targeting multiple houses, we can actually address the issue of rodents that carry the Lyme bacteria, small mammals, like mice. They run. They don’t stop at the backyard border and say, “O.K., we’re not going next door.” [Laughter.] We can treat more animals if we apply these bait boxes.

Q. They go in the bait boxes, and they get a brush, or something brushes against them and applies an insecticide to them. Is that what happens?

A. Yes, so this treats mice and chipmunks. They run into the box to feed on a bait, and, in doing so, they encounter a wick that’s treated with a chemical.

Q. A wick, O.K.

A. It’s treated with fipronil. Fipronil is the same chemical agent that’s used in the pet treatment Frontline, for flea and tick control.

Q. Yes.

A. Of course, the mice get a much lower concentration when they get treated in the box.

Q. That makes sense.

A. So they’re placed 10 meters apart, these boxes, in the wooded area at the edge of the property, and we aim to kill the immature ticks on the rodents, and since the rodents are carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme, it not only reduces the number of ticks, but it actually reduces the number of ticks that are carrying that infection.

Q. I think that’s an important point. I mean, so many people forget and almost seem surprised, when I remind people, when talking to them, like when people come to the garden, and so forth, and we’re talking about the subject. The ticks are born without this disease or these diseases, these pathogens or whatever. They are infected by taking a blood meal off, frequently, a small mammal, a mouse or chipmunk.

A. Yes, occasionally birds, yes.

Q. Occasionally a bird, right. The mammal becomes then a messenger, a vector, a transmitter.

A. They do.

Q. But they weren’t the originator.

A. These organisms that cause disease are circulating in wildlife, and the tick takes it from the wildlife, and then bites the human and transmits that infection.

Q. So that’s the Backyard Integrated Tick Management study, BITM. Did you really tell me that’s the name of it—“bite-em”?

A. [Laughter.] It’s called “bite-em,” the BITM, yes. We also are proposing an “itchy” study, but that’s for another phone call. [Laughter.]

Q. You and your acronyms, Neeta. I don’t know. I guess you have to have a sense of humor, when you go after such insidious creatures.

A. Oh, well, I hope so.

Q. That goes through 2020. The research is a four-year study.

A. We just started. We did our first year, which was we selected ticks for baseline information, and we just put out the first bait boxes this fall, yep.

Q. I see that you also either are doing or have done a children’s program, called Spray Safe, Play Safe. Is that something that you can tell us briefly about?

A. Oh, absolutely. Actually, this is a new initiative that we are just beginning now, thanks to a Healthy Communities Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. This is really a program that we are conducting in collaboration with some community public health partners.

The purpose is to educate families with young children about safe and effective use of pesticides in the backyard, for a few reasons. One is that children under the age of 10 are at the highest risk for acquiring a tick-borne illness, like Lyme disease.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding among the public, the general public, about whether to use a pesticide, and, if they decide to use a pesticide, what they should use, what they should choose, and how they should apply it. There’s really two ways it could go wrong. One is that people may over-apply. They may spray something that can have toxic environmental effects, and they may apply it all over their whole entire lawn and apply it multiple times, and may apply it near water, which would not be a very good idea. They actually could be putting themselves or the environment in a deleterious situation.

The flip side of that is that people may select a product or something they think is effective for killing ticks that maybe is not very effective or needs to be applied more often, and so getting this false sense of security by spraying something that may be ineffective or less effective. Then, they’re actually putting themselves at higher risk for disease.

We’re trying to create some awareness for families, to really empower them to decide. If they choose to use a pesticide for backyard tick management, how are they going to choose it? What are they going to choose? How are they going to apply it? What makes the most sense for them? This is our new initiative, and we’re looking forward to just seeing how this goes in the next year. [From the National Pesticide Information Center, more about correct insect-repellent use.]

Q. The other thing that’s a new-ish choice, not brand new, but new-ish choice, and more and more professional gardener friends of mine are trying it, using it, and I don’t know. But it’s the clothing, clothing that’s been impregnated … is it with permethrin?

A. Yes.

Q. And that’s another thing. It’s like, how does one really know, as a consumer if this is the way to go?

A. Oh, O.K., so yes, we actually have been doing quite a bit of work over the last two years with permethrin-treated clothing. Just so your audience may understand how this works…

Q. Give me the lowdown. [Laughter.]

A. Yes, so the way that this works is you can have your clothes treated professionally, or you can treat your clothes yourself, or you can buy clothes that have been treated with a chemical that is known as permethrin. This chemical is known to repel ticks from clothing, but also it can kill ticks that are exposed to the chemical or to the clothing that’s been treated.

The nice thing about permethrin-treated clothing is that it can last on the clothing through several launderings. If you have treated clothing, you could say, “These are my gardening clothes,” or, “I’m going to wear these when I go out to do yard work or clear brush.” You’re adding this extra layer of protection, but you don’t need to spray it all over every time you go out.

The way that it works, if you want to apply it yourself, you can buy this product. There’s many brand names at your local camping store, or sometimes hardware stores have it. You can apply it. You have to read the package directions. You have to let it dry. Usually, that’s good for about four to six washings.

There is a company who will treat your clothes for you. You can actually send your clothes off, if you have clothes you really like. You can send that off to the company, and they will actually impregnate your clothing. They have a process; they do this. That treatment is supposed to be good for 70 washings, and they say that’s about the lifetime of the garment. Actually, all of our U.S. military uniforms are treated in this manner, by this company, and so they are all wearing these.

Q. One thing about that substance, permethrin, is one does not put that on one’s skin directly.

A. Absolutely.

Q. Speaking of safety and what’s the right thing. That is not for skin.

A. Yes, absolutely. In fact, that reminds me of a friend. Her son, who was trying to repel ticks, is living in a place where he spends a lot of time outside. He bought a tick package. It was a three-pack of tick repellent. One of the things in it was this permethrin spray for clothing, but he didn’t read the directions. He actually sprayed it all over him. It was wet, and he went out. He ended up in the hospital. He had a skin reaction.

You have to be very careful—always, when you’re working with any sort of chemical. These are EPA-registered and approved for use, and they’re safe, but …

Q. If, if …

A. …you have to really be sensible about what you’re going to do, in terms of application, and wearing. You certainly don’t want to put a treated, wet thing on you; you want to wait until the application has dried, and use it properly. It is for clothing. Then skin repellents is a whole different topic.

Q. A lot of people think, “O.K., the garden season is over, so I’m safe now,” and so forth. You mentioned your colleague at University of Rhode Island, Dr. Tom Mather, and he has that website Tick Encounter dot org.

A. Yes, it’s wonderful.

Q. For people who are wherever in the country, you can go to Tick Encounter dot org, and you can go region by region, and you can see what tick species are active at any given time period. If it’s the end of November, it’ll show the last two weeks, or whatever, of tick activity in each region for each species, and really keep you aware of what’s going on in your area. [An example, above: the South Atlantic regional map for Dec. 1-15, 2017.]

A. Oh, absolutely.

Q. That is so important, because, guess what? They are not asleep right now. [Laughter.]

A. Oh, absolutely not, yes.

Q. Vigilance. I mean, in the Northeast, for instance, where we typically have a winter–but who knows any more?–do you think there’s a season where there’s not a lot of tick activity?

A. No.

Q. It’s all the time.

A. I mean, particularly here in the Northeast, if you go outside, you’re potentially at risk for a tick bite, and so people should always be vigilant, but I think a common misconception, as you pointed out, is that it’s winter, or the weather’s getting cold, and so I’m not at risk for a tick bite. Particularly with the Lyme tick, the black-legged tick, we’ve really been very good at hammering home that you should be very careful in the late spring and early summer, when the nymphal stage of the tick is out; it’s very small. It looks like a poppy seed. It’s hard to see, and it’s active when people are out being active.

I think people have ingrained in their head that the tick is very, very tiny, and it’s active during the summer, but what they may not know, or they may not remember, is that this tick—this nymphal tick stage, this tiny poppy-seed-size tick—becomes an adult. This adult stage is active right now. It’s active here in our region throughout the fall. Usually it begins in October, and it will be active until it finds a blood meal, so the female can lay her eggs.

As long as the temperature is above freezing, really above 40 degrees, we can easily encounter a tick. In fact, we’re doing experiments with ticks. Yesterday was a nice day outside, so I went out, and I mean, I only was out for 20 minutes, and I came home with a really large number of ticks.

I think that they’re out. If you’re spending time outside, it’s good to be vigilant; always do a tick check. A few Christmases ago, I think it was almost 70 degrees, and we went out for a hike with our family on Christmas day, and everybody had a tick on them when they came back. As long as it’s above freezing, and if the snow isn’t covering all the leaf litter, then ticks can come out, and they can bite, and they’ll be active all the way into the springtime, into April. [More on tick activity in winter.]

Q. I just want to ask you: I have a friend, who has an allergy to mammal meat, meaning he can’t eat red meat. Apparently, this is a tick-related thing. You spoke about some of the diseases, the tick-borne diseases, but what is that? What tick is that?

A. This recently was described that the bite from a particular tick species, the lone star tick. It has been associated, with some of the people being bitten, develop this allergy to particularly red meat, and also to pork and even sometimes to poultry, but typically to red meat and pork. It’s because this lone star tick actually has … In its gut, it has this particular sugar. It’s called … Alpha-gal is the short version of that sugar. When it bites, it transmits this and actually causes the human body, in some people, to have this allergic response, or an alert, and develop antibodies to this sugar.

Now, a lot of meat sources have this alpha-gal sugar, as well, so, after being bitten by the tick, you may become sensitized, and then, when you eat the meat, you may have what can be often a very, a very severe reaction that can land some people in the hospital. Some people may just have some indigestion, gastrointestinal symptoms, but other people will have hives and swelling.

Q. Oh boy.

A. In some cases, people have gone to the ICU. They only recently have made the connection between this particular species of tick. In Europe, there’s other species of tick they’ve tried to link this to. I think, there’s other reasons people can develop an allergy to meat, not just the tick bite, but this one definitely was an interesting one-

Q. So much to learn.

A. And it’s another thing to think about. This tick species, the lone star tick, it’s not quite established very well here in the Northeast yet, although we do occasionally see these ticks when we’re out sampling, and they’re not far from where we’re located, but these ticks are very aggressive. They’re very aggressive biters. They actually will detect you and sort of chase you and find you.{Laughter.] Whereas, the tick…

Q. Now, you’re giving me nightmares. [Laughter.]

A. I’m sorry. Well, the tick we study, the deer tick, it sort of hangs out on the vegetation just waiting for us to walk by, but these lone star ticks, they’re very aggressive. It makes picnicking hard in some other places.

Q. There’s so much to learn, and we look forward to hearing more and more and more, as you learn it with your research, Dr. Neeta Connally of Western Connecticut State University.

important links to learn more about ticks

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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its seventh year in March 2016. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the Dec. 11, 2017 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

(Top-of-page deer-tick closeup from NOAA Photo Library.)

      1. Mike says:

        Thanks! Just confirming, EPA does list this product as a Restricted Use Pesticide. So, a license is required to buy and apply. It sounds quite a bit better than other alternatives that might be sprayed for ticks as it’s specific and has a relatively short half-life in the environment.

  1. dudleysmom says:

    I have been using permethrin treated clothing for the last 5 years after contracting severe, intractable lyme disease (yes, you can get it more than once, and in addition to multiple strains of borrelia there are more transmissible diseases from ticks than you mentioned, in particular, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, erlichiosis, and bartonella). It is important to know that ONE drop of (wet) permethrin is fatal to cats. I spray my clothes outdoors and let them dry. After gardening, I remove my treated clothes the moment I come inside and immediately place them in the washer. My treated shoes get hung up on the wall out of the reach of my insatiably curious cats. This amount of caution is probably overkill, but one of my cats has kidney disease and cannot handle chemical exposure as a normal cat could. The permethrin treated clothing has allowed me to continue working outside; many Lyme disease sufferers become basically housebound due to an understandable fear of reinfection.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Elly. I am not an expert on this, but the chemical is called beta-cyfluthrin (according to the study FAQ page). Many factors (when you spray, the concentration, what you spray — e.g., spraying blooming crops is of course going to hurt more pollinators and is warned against…) affect the overall impact. More on that. I know this study calls for a very dilute amount used at the perimeter of properties at a particular time of year– so I suggest inquiring to Dr. Connally’s team for how they calculated this and what other impacts it might have, etc. Obviously the study was not designed to harm other important organisms in order to kill ticks, so I suspect the calculations were all very considered. But there are too many factors for me to say what the impact is without full knowledge.

      1. Jacquelyn M says:

        I looked at the label of this product, and it kills many insects, including caterpillars, so to me, this is a problem. I think that many researchers looking to kill problematic insects tend to have tunnel vision and fail to see the ecological harm done as a ‘side effect’ of these pesticides. I’ve been using lemon eucalyptus repellent for a couple of years now, it’s natural, non-toxic, and effective. I’m in the garden and in wooded parks and nature preserves daily, so I want to be safe and also not harm the ecology.

        1. Mary K says:

          Agree. Killing insects takes away vital food for birds – all of which are under increased stress due to changing and disappearing habitats, and other effects of climate change. Of course, pesticides are the reason bees and other pollinators are massive decline. A great book about this is The Moth Snowstorm (2015, Michael McCarthy).

          Pesticide is also very bad for people and pets.

  2. Nina says:

    I absolutely swear by permethrin-treated clothing. I hike with my dog several times a week, and we’re also out working in the garden regularly. We live in rural NW CT, prime tick (and Lyme disease!) region, and in 7 years my husband and I have NEVER had a tick on us thanks to this clothing–at a minimum I always wear treated pants and socks, and often shirt and hat. I used to treat my own clothes with the spray, but that got to be a pain, so now I buy pre-treated clothing, but still keep a bottle of spray around to treat shoes. We even have a permethrin-treated blanket for the dog to lie on out in the yard. Honestly, cannot speak more highly about this stuff–it allows us to enjoy the lifestyle we want worry free.

  3. Jeannine Mitchell says:

    I’m concerned about the use of any pesticide in leaf litter in woods and at wood’s edge. This is habitat for many species, not only ticks: lightning bugs, pollinators, butterfly larva. Using pesticides kills more than ticks, reducing the insect biomass essential to birds and other fauna and destroying beautiful and valuable life. There is other research going on about ticks, including research about plants that are more attractive to ticks like Japanese barberry. Removing certain plants and adding others is a natural, harmless means of reducing tick populations. (See Dan Duran’s work on this subject.) The attraction of diverse bird species into your backyard is also useful in tick control, but birds require environments that are diverse and insect rich. Please don’t be so enthusiastic about pesticides! And please encourage people, including children, to go outside. There is more to enjoy and to learn than to fear.

  4. Janice Jaskowiak says:

    Okay, I remember reading one of your earlier newsletters and it was about being lazy in the garden and leaving the leaves. Now here she says that leaving the leaves (which I did on my beds) is a place for the ticks to remain active. So far all I’ve seen here in WNY are dog ticks but one of my dogs in particular (Mini Schnauzer) has had 2 in the past weeks hiding in his beard. I have been trying to figure where he is getting them since I have a fenced yard.

    1. Lauren ???? says:

      Yep, I was thinking about this as well. So exactly WHAT are we supposed to do here? Over the last 40 years I got Lyme’s Disease four times. It always happened after being really vigilant for years and then I would get complacent and lax and then it would happen again. Thank heavens I have a great Dr. who would treat me riht away so it was always nipped in the bud. I haven’t had it in over a decade now. I want to do the right thing but what is the right thing now. Leave, no leaves?

  5. CIndy Donahey says:

    A vinegar spray on the skin is supposed to retard insects of all sorts. I added roses to my vinegar etc. Took the rosebuds out and they were somewhat preserved. Some outdoor people used bottled lemon juice with citric acid. for that and for adding to drinking water. Others used alcohol of various sorts. . There are other plants that can be added. This can change skin ph, it is supposed to be especially helpful onthose who insects find especially attractive. If the skins stings, this usually means the skin is damaged. You can add heavy unguents. Coal tar ointments are outlawed in the US, although a hair scalp cream is still available with a much reduced percentage of coal tar. Many people have damaged skin, especially those who spend time outdoors. You need less insecticide if you do this consistently as it clings more to the skin. As the skin heals, you can increase the insecticide as deemed ne essay. This damaged skin, men have this more than women, is supposed to complicate all sorts of things including insect bites.

  6. CIndy Donahey says:

    Some people would make up their drinking water for the day and add swigs of infused, vinegar, citrus juice or liquor. Others would hav it done for them. Some of them would test their urine for the proper ph. Optimum health and being rejected by insects were thought to go together. Some,swore by adding sweetener and others went completely the other way. I personally favor sweetener.

    1. Cecilia says:

      YES, where can we get those rodent control boxes, I’d like at least a dozen to start. I live on 5 acres next to the national Forest near Yosemite. My property is fences, so the deer don’t bring it ticks any longer but I have loads of little rodents I’d love to treat in a way they can still be safe prey for the hawks.

  7. Helen L. Birdsong says:

    I developed an allergy to beef and pork, about 1986. First problem was after eating a nice steak. Ended up in hosp. with hives, itching all over, throat starting to swell closed.. 7 days later, it happened again acter eating a steak at another location, back to the hospital. I did not remember having a tick bite. I had read several years ago a study was done by a Univ. in Virginia , said the allergy came from the tick biting the animal. I can use beef bouillon to cook with, but can’t swallow beef or pork. I live in south center Missouri. I did get a tick bite this May, very large red circle on back, I was treated with an antibiotic, and was tested but did not get Lymes diseasI

  8. Jacquelyn M says:

    There is no mention in any of this on the effects of these pesticides on beneficial insets. Also, the recommendations for reducing ticks in the yard and garden are contrary to best ecological practices (e.g., leaving fall leaves and plant debris in garden beds, shredding leaves and using as mulch, planting the yard with a diversity of native plants and shrubs, reducing lawns, avoiding the use of pesticides…). What about the ‘Messy Garden’ pledge? The Certified Wildlife Habitat? The Certified Monarch Waystation? How do we reconcile our desire for a healthy ecology that supports a diverse and balanced web of life with our desire to reduce our risks from ticks?

  9. Nancy Marie Allen says:

    Food grade DIATOMACEOUS EARTH is non-toxic and safe for children and pets. Consisting of millions of fossilized diatoms, this fine powder cuts through ticks and dries them out. Mix one to two cups per gallon of water and, using a large watering can, sprinkle the liquid around your yard. For large areas, you could use a sprayer. It dries to a light powder which disappears from sight after rain. Apply twice a year, early spring and fall, and expect results. We’ve had great success using this product over the past five years in our Northeastern Massachusetts home where we were once infested with deer ticks. Today, although we still check for ticks regularly, we rarely find one. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

    1. Mary K says:

      Thank you!

      In combination with “shock and awe” treatment (permethrin on clothing followed with 10 minutes in the dryer on high after potential exposure)
      And permethrin-soaked cottonballs where mice can find them for their nests,
      We’re all set!

  10. Emily says:

    I too would like to see less border spraying which does, even done carefully, have the potential to harm many other species – insect, bird, mammal and reptile. I’d like to see some studies done on the effect of the bait box treatments on, for example, black snakes which can be a very effective rodent control patrol when present. Other than that concern, the bait boxes sound promising since Treating rodents doesn’t just open up a niche for other rodents (same and different species) to fill as trapping and killing them does. Years ago, when “deer” ticks came to our camping land I put permethrin treated cotton balls into pvc tubes which were taken by mice (presumably) back to their nests, where it treated whole families. It had an almost instant impact on the numbers of deer ticks (no controls for weather etc. available of course) but the cotton balls were ignored the next year. Perhaps they sickened the mice or killed the more vulnerable offspring in the closed confines of the nests and thus were avoided in the future – rodents have a very good learned response to survivable poisoning which has been shown in research. The bait boxes seem like a better idea and should be extended to treating deer around the head and shoulders since simply killing deer also leaves habitat open to new deer spilling in from neighboring, possibly untreated areas. Currently, commercially available treatment stations are expensive (community level investments) but more affordable designs are certainly possible and should be developed.

  11. Erika says:

    As an alpha-gal allergy sufferer, I just wanted to provide some more accurate information about the allergy. The alpha-gal sugar is present in all non-primate mammals, so potentially any food product that comes from a mammal can be an allergy trigger, including meat from mammals (beef, pork, venison, bison, rabbit, etc.), dairy products (cow, goat, etc.) and gelatin (if rendered from mammal sources). I’ve never heard of anyone reacting to poultry as part of this allergy; birds aren’t mammals.

    It’s a really weird allergy in many ways. Unlike a typical food allergy where you react immediately, the reaction is usually delayed for 3-6 hours, making it harder to isolate the trigger. Also, some people’s antibodies only seem to “recognize” the alpha-gal in particular contexts. So one person might react to beef but not pork, someone else might react to pork but not beef, and a third person might react to ALL the meats. Plus your range of triggers can change over time. (I have only had dangerous reactions to dairy products so far, but my allergist advises avoiding all the mammal meats anyway, because even the first reaction to a new problem food can be severe.)

    The only bright spot is that the allergy sometimes goes away over time, IF you avoid further tick bites. I had almost gotten rid of it earlier this year, then I got two tick bites while sitting on a blanket on my mowed front lawn during the eclipse. Now my reading on the allergy blood test is way back up in the danger zone… My love for gardening and hiking really conflicts with my dream of eating a cheeseburger again someday…

  12. Linda B Horn says:

    I suggest bringing back burning. Important rejuvenation of soil,
    getting rid of brush thrown in borders, easy cleanup in the spring and
    no cover for mice.
    Also a good mousing cat removed chipmunks squirrels from my yard.
    Also having a healthy bio diverse landscape.
    Get a burn permit or wait till you an burn.

    1. Jacquelyn says:

      I recently read a study showing that opossums are excellent tick eliminators. The ticks are attracted to the possums, and the possums groom themselves so thoroughly that they kill all the ticks. So, every time a possum crosses your property, it removes numerous ticks. I wonder how I can attract possums? Open a possum hotel? Serve a possum buffet? I’ll have to read up on them!

  13. hope says:

    Horrifying! Applying potentially lethal poisons (pesticides) to animals who cannot consent to its application on them is basically a form of vivisection.

    Is there any follow up research on the resulting overdose deaths or “incidental takes” of non-target organisms?

    Wearing protective clothing, and doing occasional “tick checks” during outdoor activities are the “weapons of choice” for this humane outdoors family.

    Pesticide is poison. Period. It has no place in a natural ecosystem, or on ANY non-consenting organism.

    I am taken aback at some of the pro-pesticide responses of some of Margaret’s audience…who are usually a more thoughtful, eco-conscious, and less anthropocentric demographic.


    Thank you to all of the other readers who likewise expressed concern and doubt about the questionable merit and potential collateral damage (sick or dead non-target (non-tick) animals) in this experiment/study that affects native American wildlife and ecosystems shared by all and beloved by some.

    Objectively, the human species’ fear of illness does not trump other animals rights to live naturally, organically, free from unwanted poisonings.

    It is challenging enough for a wild animal to survive each day, to find sufficient food, water and shelter, and avoid predation. WE (humans) need not add another stressor.

    We taxpayers need not fund research that benefits pesticide manufacturers and puts more deleterious chemicals or poisons into our shared ecosystem and native wildlife.

  14. Georgia Cinq-Mars says:

    Interesting article and comments. I will not be using any insecticides and I will continue leaving the leaves.

    I would like to see a study that monitors the tick population when there are free ranging chickens in the yard. Ecologically chickens present their own issues but nothing as deadly as Lyme’s disease.

  15. Nicky says:

    My doctor says that the best thing you can do to avoid tick problems is to take a bath and shampoo after working in the garden.The clothes I have worn go into the washing machine..Wearing long pants and tucking your socks over the pant bottoms also helps.

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