Today, for your squirming pleasure, I’m revisiting material that first appeared in an article published to the Golden Mountain Dog Solutions blog back in 2008. If you live or travel in suburban, rural, or forested areas (the latter including town or city parks), this might help expunge the misunderstandings surrounding Ticks that even highly accredited “experts” in the field of parasitology seem hell bent on perpetuating.
Ticks are not new news, nor are they vaguely understood supernatural beings, and why what gets put out there for public education, even from “official” sources, veers more toward being lore than fact has always been a mystery to me.
Here in Nova Scotia, the predominant Tick species are the Dog Tick, and the Black Legged or Deer Tick, and both are common in our own personal woods and environs. While any Tick is the repository of many a vile microbe, only the Black Legged Tick is known to carry the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease.
As Spring approaches, the thoughts of those who frequent fields and wooded areas, and particularly of those who travel there with Dogs, invariably go to the dreaded Black Legged Tick. In truth, vigilance and precautions should actually be a 12 month practice. I have personally removed Dog Ticks from my Dogs in February after a day afield that never made it above -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sources vary in describing the hibernation habits of Black Legged/Deer Ticks. All that I’ve found to match my own observations agree that the larvae like it warm, for the most part hatch in Spring, and ply their trade in Summer before metamorphosing into nymphs, those nymphs that have not metamorphosed into adults by the time temperatures approach freezing in autumn will hibernate in leaf loam under the forest floor, while adults that have not yet found a host MAY hibernate.
Those of my own experience having always been Dog Ticks, for the sake of metabolic explanation I’m going to assume similarity of related organisms living in identical environments, and consider the Dog Tick and Black Legged/Deer Tick to be identical in this critical area. Invertebrates such as insects and arachnids have evolved a mechanism for preventing their blood from freezing that develops a naturally occurring antifreeze agent when they are exposed to progressively colder temperatures. Note I said “progressively” because a sudden deep freeze of sufficient duration will not permit the process to reach its conclusion before death becomes a certainty for the organism. If you’ve ever gone into an uninsulated attic in the winter time while the ambient temperature is below freezing, you will probably have witnessed this in the form of very slow moving Flies and Spiders — in short, they’re shitfaced with a blood alcohol level far exceeding legal levels to drive, and while partners in the dance of death in warmer times, spend the cold spell together, drunk as lords.
An an adult Tick finds its host through a very sedate process called “questing” that involves the animal positioning itself at the tip or edge of a blade of grass or low hanging leaf, and then, with forelegs extended , remaining there in a state of torpor (or at least deep meditation) until called to action. This happens when something comes into contact with the extended forelegs, thereby triggering an abrupt and reflexive closure intended to snag the fur, feather, or fabric of a passing host. The process revives the Tick which then goes to work.
For a Tick that finds itself questing when a freeze comes in, a balance is necessary to keep it in position without killing it. Too fast and the Tick will die, while too slow and the Tick may be compelled to descend into protective cover before the onset of defensive anti-freeze infusion has rendered it both safe from freezing and too intoxicated to care about going anywhere. For those that find themselves in this blissful state, the activation of the forelegs being reflexive and therefore operable absent conscious control (try keeping your eyes open while sneezing and you’ll experience such an event), any passing critter will find the Tick attached, and its body heat will soon revive the Tick.
Mrs. LFM and I first learned of the Lyme risk in and around the Town of Lunenburg (near which we lived at the time, and 20 kilometers southeast of where we now reside) in 2006 during a routine visit to our vet, Dr. Barry Falkenham at Seaside Animal Hospital. At that time he told us that pretty much any Deer Tick found inside of Lunenburg, and east through Garden Lots, Heckman’s Island, Blue Rocks and the Stonehursts, could be expected to be Lyme positive. This really didn’t surprise us considering the size of the Deer herd that even back then was living within the inhabited zone that made them immune to any sort of hunting activity, limiting mortality to age, illness, and misadventure. (more…)