The ticks of Maine are awake and active, and as someone who spends a fair amount of time outdoors, I’m not particularly happy about it. So last week, I posted a reader query: “What’s your best defense against ticks?” And the responses I received are full of great tips, from homemade repellents to “tick spoons.”
It’s no great surprise that the first response I received was from my father, Stan Sarnacki, a lifelong hunter who enjoys gardening and watching wildlife at his farm in Swanville. My father has been wary of ticks and the Lyme disease they can carry for a long time, and in the past few years he has found duranon repellent spray by Coulston to be effective in keeping ticks away, and fellow hunters he has shared the repellent with have had the same experience.
“Last year, your uncle Pete tried this spray on Sears Island while hunting with a few friends,” he wrote to me. “He sprayed his and a friend’s pants and jackets down with duranon; two other friends went without this spray. Pete and the friend that used the spray had no ticks on them, and the two that didn’t use the spray had quite a few ticks on their clothing and finally had to spray themselves, which then took care of the problem for the remainder of the day.
“It’s very important that people who are going turkey hunting this spring use a lot of caution,” he continued, “since they will be sitting at ground level with these ticks and probably disturbing the ground litter that these ticks hide under in the spring. The spray is supposed to be unscented, but since turkeys don’t have a great sense of smell, it shouldn’t be a problem. I will say that I was concerned about the scent and deer hunting, because you know how serious I am about that sport, but it hasn’t been a problem.”
In addition, my father suggested I tuck my pant legs into my socks to keep ticks from crawling inside my clothing (an unpleasant thought).
“Try to avoid brushy areas and stay in the open mature tree growth as much as you can. Ticks like brush,” he said. “If you hike with a friend, which you often do, just remember to check each other for ticks after each hike and be careful not to take clothing into your car or home without first shaking it out good and checking it for ticks.”
The repellent my father suggested, duranon, may not be appealing to people who prefer all-natural body products. The active ingredient is permethrin, a synthetic duplication of a naturally occurring insecticide that occurs in a species of Chrysanthemum.
Fortunately, there are many methods for battling ticks. Following are some edited snippets of what some BDN readers had to share.
Chuck Lubelczyk of Maine Medical Center’s Vector-borne Disease Lab and an entomologist with UMaine Cooperative Extension
My best tick defense is light colored hiking shoes, socks, pants, shirt and hat — all this for easy tick detection (best with a partner) while hiking. Be sure to do a tick check (again, best with a partner) before getting back into the car after the hike. Also, be sure to tuck your pant legs into your socks before the hike, since ticks usually tend to crawl upwards. Recheck after exiting your car once home and then in the shower at the end of the day.
For the hardcore, you can spray a set of hiking clothes with a product labeled for such containing permethrin. Be sure to read the label before purchase of the product to be sure it’s what you want to deal with, and read the label again before use. Again, for the hardcore, DEET 20 percent or more is effective tick repellent on exposed skin. I wash the stuff off with soap and warm water as soon as I get out of the woods.
Lyme disease is serious stuff, so you don’t want to take it lightly.
Amber Hardy, AmeriCorps volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for Maine Conservation Corps
Here at the Maine Conservation Corps, we have “tick spoons” to remove ticks. Our members live outside all summer long, so we give them out to each one, plus instructions. I haven’t had a tick myself, but the spoons seem to work quite well. Around this time of year, we start getting the state park staff in here, scooping them up by the handful. That’s a pretty good endorsement if you ask me!
The tick spoon at MCC is similar to the product Ticked Off, sold at tickedoff.com.
Alex Carr of Virginia Beach, Va.
1. Spray permethrin on shoes, boots and coats. Spray clothes, not body.
2. Buy as much Insect Shield clothes as possible (permethrin treatment lasts 10 times longer than spray) — socks, shorts, shirt, bandana and hat — or consider sending clothes to get Insect Shield treatment.
3. Avoid brushing against bushes, tall grasses.
4. Shower as soon as you get out of the woods.
5. Check your body for ticks, especially your groin and armpits.
6. Brush and bathe dogs often to find ticks.
7. Wash hiking clothes as soon as possible.
8. For men wearing shorts and short sleeves, consider shaving legs and arms (easier detection and removal).
9. In some tests, dark clothes have shown significantly less tick attraction than light, but light colors make ticks easier to spot.
10. Avoid areas heavily populated with deer and mice.
My top reference for tick and mosquito defense is Mike McGrath’s “You Bet Your Garden” on WHYY, NPR and iTunes.
Mark Levasseur of Westbrook
Even though Ticked Off! made by Deserving Pets is a dog product, I spray my pants with it. It’s all natural and works great (both on me and my dog). Check out the product at www.deservingpets.com/product_p/to32.htm.
Ed Gworek of Stockton Springs
I received my first tick bite of the season just yesterday, so I had to reply to you. Those little suckers can really latch on tight! I was fortunate enough to be able to remove it before it burrowed into my skin too deeply. I dislike them even more than black flies.
I will now be taking to my normal ritual. I dislike using chemicals of any kind, so I use herbs to help keep them away. I’ve tried all sorts of things, from cedarwood oil to rosewood oil. What has been working for me the best though is a lavender-geranium powder that I make. I let the stalks and flowers of each dry in the sun for a day or two and then grind them really fine in my coffee bean grinder and rub the powder on any exposed skin. I use it on Frodo (my dog) in addition to his other repellent, Vectra 3D (the Belfast Veterinary Clinic turned me onto it), and the combo works really well for him.
I always remove my clothes outdoors and shake them off as well. Both Frodo and myself have a lot of hair, so I will brush him outdoors and I brush my hair and beard before we come into the house. I then use a hand held mirror to check my back for the little suckers. Hope this helps a little. Looking forward to read about solutions from other folks as well.
Judi Walter of northwest Arkansas
Having relocated from northern Maine to northwest Arkansas a few years ago, we discovered right off the need to keep ticks off. We have found the best defense is an all-over dosing of Skin So Soft (the original stuff). If by chance one of those nasty ticks gets a hold anyway, a dab of tea tree oil will make him come off easily. If per chance the head stays in after the thing has been pulled off, the tea tree oil will usually make it come out.
A mirror or your partner are very helpful in a tick inspection. Those ticks love the belt line, but go for the hidden spots, too. Most often you can tell they are there by an itch or crawling sensation.
Dan Lawler of New Jersey
I live in a section of New Jersey that is loaded with ticks and has a high incidence of Lyme disease — my wife has just recovered from her second bout.
One thing that works well and is highly recommended by me and others who spend time outdoors is permethrin. I’ve been using a spray sold by Sawyer that you use to treat your clothes. It supposedly works for six weeks and will remain effective through six washes. It seems to both repel ticks and kill any that happen to get on you. Since I started using it last year, I’ve picked up no ticks, despite spending a lot of time in the woods and thickets. And my son worked in the woods all last summer using this stuff and he had no ticks either.
While it’s probably more cost-effective to buy Insect Shield clothing, which is pre-treated with permethrin and supposedly lasts through 70 washes, this stuff will do a good job on your existing clothes.
Glenn Gunther, co-founder of Green Mountain Tick Repellent
Just read your article on the BDN blog and I thought I would tell you about a product that my partner and I developed. It is an all-natural tick repellent spray that uses essential oils and is safe for humans and canines. For information, visit www.gmtick.com.