New research shows that Mainers are most likely to encounter ticks while gardening and doing yard work. Don’t turn in your rake and spade just yet, though. Not only can you protect yourself from tick borne diseases, but you also can help contribute ticks to science.
The Tick Lab in the new UMaine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory in Orono recently released the Maine Tick Surveillance Program Annual Report for 2019, a first-of-its-kind study looking at 2,697 ticks from 358 towns from each of the state’s 16 counties.
In addition to looking at tick-borne pathogens, the study also looked at where and when people found ticks, as well as what they were doing when they encountered them. According to the findings, “gardening-yard work” was the most common activity people were engaged in when they encountered ticks, accounting for about 38 percent of the ticks sent to the lab. The second most common activity was “walking,” which accounted for about 20 percent of ticks.
Griffin Dill, who manages the Tick Lab, said that the finding is significant because it dispels a commonly mistaken belief about ticks.
“I think sometimes that people have misconceptions about where they’re most likely to encounter ticks,” Dill said. “They think of ticks as something out in the woods that are things for hikers, fishermen [and] people traversing wild habitats. In reality, it really is an issue in that home landscape as much as anywhere else.”
Because of the tick’s unique lifecycle, Dill said that adult tick season peaks in the spring and fall, which are “big times of the year for yard work.”
“The timing is right, the habitat is right and it really kind of puts people and ticks on this kind of collision course,” Dill said.
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Dill doesn’t want Mainers to panic, though.
“One of the things that we really try to avoid is instilling that fear of ticks,” Dill said. “We don’t want people to be afraid to go outside.”
Instead, take measures to protect yourself this growing season.
“One of the most important things is personal protection: creating a barrier in some way, whether it be a physical barrier through the use of clothes like long sleeves [and] long pants, or a chemical barrier like a repellant,” Dill said. “You can also combine these two types of barriers using something called permethrin [to] treat clothing and gear. It tends to be the most effective repellent against ticks.”
There are also landscaping choices that will keep ticks at bay.
“[Ticks] dry out easily, so they tend to be found in areas where there is a lot of shade, a lot of plant cover and things like that,” Dill said. “Open up the landscape to allow as much sunlight as possible in. [Also] try to avoid certain invasive plants. Japanese barberry in particular has been closely associated with tick populations.”
Experienced gardeners have their own tick tackling tips.
“My own personal tip is to stash multiple tick removal spoons in easy-access locations such as a car glove box, kitchen junk drawer and medicine cabinet,” said Kate Garland, horticultural specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “I often have one in my purse as well.”
Also, educate yourself on how to quickly and safely remove a tick should you encounter one.
“Take the time to read up or view a video on how to remove a tick before your next tick encounter,” Garland said.
Plus, if you find and remove a tick while gardening or doing yard work, you can send it to the Tick Lab for free identification — and to contribute to the Tick Surveillance Program Annual Report for 2020. For a $15 fee, Maine residents can also have deer ticks tested for causative agents of the three most common tick-borne diseases in Maine: Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis.
For more information on the study and how to submit a tick for testing, visit ticks.umaine.edu.