Coming of spring means outdoors fun begins

“Randy looked like a tick about to pop.” — A Christmas Story

With spring springing all around, the opening of the inland trout season just around the corner, and the warming days of May just a moment or two away, a great many people will be heading into the Outdoors North to pursue a wide variety of activities.

Before you go, it’s a good idea to brush up on some information about ticks, tick prevention and the potential human health risks resulting from tick bites.

Here in the Upper Peninsula, most people have heard at least something about ticks, whether it’s homespun methods of removing them from your skin, the fact that some carry Lyme disease or that ticks can attach themselves in large numbers to dogs that like to run through the brush.

However, a lot of people don’t know there are more than 20 species of ticks in Michigan. Most are seen infrequently on people or their pets, and are not associated with human illness. Some of these ticks, however, have bitten people and domestic animals, and they may harbor dangerous bacteria, parasites or viruses.

Tick-borne diseases can be serious or fatal if not properly diagnosed and treated.

More information than can be included here on preventing tick-borne illness in Michigan is available in a helpful, recently-updated “Ticks and Your Health” pamphlet produced jointly by the Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Natural Resources, along with Michigan State University.

The guide includes an informative table on diseases spread by ticks in Michigan, information on treatments, prevention, tick removal and more. To read or download the brochure, visit www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases and select “Lyme disease” from a column of choices along the left-hand side of the screen.

Ticks are related closely to insects and spiders, have larval, nymph and adult life stages, and feed painlessly on blood by attaching themselves to the skin with their piercing mouthparts.

Once they begin to feed, ticks typically stay attached and feed for several days, becoming greatly engorged, which can aid in their discovery. Ticks can transmit diseases in parts of the state where wildlife populations are infected with certain bacteria.

Ticks can attach anywhere on the body, but are commonly found in the hairline, ears, waistline, armpit and groin. The guide outlines details on prevention including avoiding areas with lots of ticks, checking your skin and clothes each day and applying insect repellents to skin and clothes to repel ticks.

Use a fine-tipped tweezers or tick removal tool to grasp a tick as close to your skin as possible and then slowly, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. Do not apply petroleum jelly, a hot match or other irritants.

The five most common ticks in Michigan are the American dog tick, which is better known as the “wood tick,” blacklegged tick, which is a possible vector of several diseases including Lyme disease and is often called the “deer tick,” and the far less common lone star, woodchuck and brown dog, or kennel, ticks.

American dog ticks (wood ticks) account for 76 percent of the ticks submitted to state agencies for identification. They are widespread across the state in wooded and grassy areas. Blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) account for 15 percent of ticks in Michigan. They are also found in wooded or grassy areas.

In the U.P., field-confirmed populations of infected blacklegged ticks, and/or two or more confirmed human cases of Lyme disease, have been recorded in Marquette, Dickinson, Delta, Menominee, Gogebic, Houghton and Ontonagon counties.

Blacklegged tick populations are expected to expand from these areas into Baraga, Iron, Alger and Schoolcraft counties.

Lone star ticks, with their namesake marking, are rare in Michigan, but are becoming more common. They are found in wooded areas with populations of white-tailed deer and represent 5 percent of the ticks most commonly identified in the state.

As the name suggests, woodchuck ticks are often found in woodchuck (ground hog) or skunk dens, biting pets when they are near these dens. They account for 3 percent of the most common Michigan ticks.

Brown dog ticks (kennel ticks) round out Michigan’s most common species with 1 percent reported. These species can survive and breed in indoor environments and outdoors in grassy and brushy areas. They are often found in shelters, breeding facilities and dog kennels, but infestations in these facilities can be prevented with the use of hygienic practices.

Getting out into the woods, especially in springtime, is one of the greatest pleasures enjoyed by a large percentage of the people who live, work or visit the U.P., exploring all of the fantastic natural resources around us.

However, in doing so, it’s best to pack along some knowledge about ticks and how to protect yourself from the illnesses they can spread.

Editor’s note: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.