It’s that season again. The woods are warming up, the trails are drying out, wildflowers are popping up, birds are coming back, and folks are excited to get out into the woods!
As John Muir, a University of Wisconsin-educated naturalist said, “Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom… Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy...”
Unfortunately, something else may also flow into you after walking quietly off into the woods to get a closer look at a flower or a better glimpse of the warbler. Tick season is upon us, arriving ahead of schedule with the warm weather, and they seem to pose an ever-increasing threat of disease. If you are an avid outdoors person, you have probably already done your research about ticks and Lyme Disease, but I would like to share a few important reminders. Since my job is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature, I want to make sure you do it safely!
Wood ticks and the smaller deer ticks both tend to hang out in tall grass and low shrubs, especially where fields meet forests. This is not the only place they are found, but it is where they are most abundant. I also notice them in leaf-litter on the forest floor. Therefore, you may want to avoid walking through tall grass. Ticks do not fall on you from trees, and they do not jump from vegetation. They simply hang on to the top of a blade of grass with a couple of their eight legs, and wave the rest in the air so they can grab whatever warm-blooded animal happens to pass by. Deer, mice, and birds are the primary sources for the blood necessary to develop from each stage in their life cycle to the next. Learn more about their fascinating life cycle at www.aldf.com/.
Wearing light colored clothing and tucking your pants into your socks can help make sure that you find and remove ticks quickly, before they have attached to you. We have a song at the Museum that advises kids to “flick the tick” to get it off you. Just don’t flick it toward your hiking buddy. Instead, as you are walking behind your friend, scan their clothing for small moving dots. You can also apply insect repellent with 20-30% DEET to shoes, socks and pants. There is another chemical known as Permethrin, which reportedly kills ticks on contact with treated clothing. As with any chemicals, there are risks and benefits that you will probably want to research a bit. I personally prefer protective clothing to protective chemicals.
If you do find a tick that has attached to you, don’t panic! A tick must be attached for 12-24 hours for the Lyme or related bacteria to be transmitted. Then, do NOT attempt removal using nail polish, Vaseline, matches or other methods that may traumatize the tick and cause it to regurgitate its gut contents. Yuck! Instead, get a pair of tweezers with good tips, and grasp the tick on its head, as close to your skin as possible. Pull it out slowly and firmly. If you get a little chunk of skin, it means you got the whole tick!
Finally, be aware of your health. If you know you have been bitten, watch the site for signs of infection, or the characteristic bull’s-eye rash. In any case, watch out for symptoms like fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. If you suspect you may have Lyme or a similar tick-borne disease, see your doctor as soon as possible! Early treatment usually results in 100% recovery, but late-stage infections can have lasting health effects.
As John Muir knew well, there are many health benefits to spending time in nature. Richard Louv documented those benefits well in his books Last Child in the Woods, and The Nature Principle. In my view, the health risks to NOT going outside far outweigh the risk of disease from ticks. With a little care and vigilance, we can make sure that it is only nature’s peace that infects us, and nothing else!
For over 44 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. The new exhibit, STAR POWER: Energy from the Sun, opens in May 2012. Find us on the web at www.cablemuseum.org to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Also discover us on Facebook, or at our blogspot, http://cablemuseumnaturalconnections.blogspot.com/