Ticks – meet the sucking little critter

Sucking little ticks. They are more than a nuisance and can make us very ill but a little savvy protects the sensible.

Meet Ixodes ricinus, the lyme disease carrying arachnid. He is a simple critter with modest requirements – an ambient temperature of 7ºC or warmer and a warm blood host upon which to feast.

Both his stipulations are met in Scottish abundance here in summer in his west coast domain. He feeds on birds, sheep, cattle, dogs, deer, horses – and, of course, us.

On the up

Much evidence reveals an increase in Scottish tick numbers, one of the causes being the country’s increased deer numbers in woods and moorlands – areas favoured by our Ixodes.

By Scottish tick I do not mean to suggest Ixodes has a sporran. Or that he paints his face with woad. Indeed he is quite cosmopolitan and, elsewhere also popularly known as the sheep tick, wood tick or castor bean tick, his kin are found widely spread in colonies throughout northern Europe.

So, it is not fact that he is particularly Scottish. But it is certain he loves to peddle his wares in the Hebrides.

Arachnid minority

Only some ticks carry disease. Indeed it is only Ixodes ricinus who carries the lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) people should be concerned with and only between 1% and 10% of these little charmers carry the dangerous bacterial agent which transfers the disease to humans.

Back to woed

But, returning to the geo–ethnic origins of our Ixodes in Scotland, it is said his tiny frame thorax can swell from 2mm to 11mm when bloated. And, for those of us not yet gone metric that is the equivelent of the length of a grain of rice to the width of a penny piece.

He may not go to war in woed but he sucks enough blood to paint an army red.

Precautions

Worryingly records also show an increase in cases of lyme disease although it this may be relative to the greater number of ramblers now enjoying the Scottish highlands.

For those who do enjoy walking and wild camping, it’s hard to avoid ticks in the highlands. The best one can do is take precautions as follows:

  1. Always avoid wearing shorts as ticks easily attach themselves to bare skin
  2. Wear gaiters as a sensible step to prevent ticks getting in under your trousers
  3. Wear sleeves with elasticated wrists to prevent them getting up your arms
  4. The host normally has to go to the tick and not the other way around (they are part of the spider family so the have no wings and can not jump). Ticks locate themselves in tall overhanging vegetation waiting for a host to brush past
  5. Ticks often live on the underside of bracken leaves
  6. Spray permethrin and DEET (di-ethyl toluamide) repellents onto clothes
  7. Spray your dog with a repellent from your pet shop
  8. Remove outer clothing before entering a house or a tent

Removal

If one of the little critters is discovered on the body a tick remover (specialised tweezer) should be used and these have instructions on the box.

If such a tool can not be found, try to grab as much of the animal as possible including its head using standard fine tipped tweezers and pull gently without twisting to withdraw the entire animal in one.

Do not use heat, ice, creams or gels to persuade the tick to leave as he may regurgitate his stomach contents increasing the risk of lyme disease transferal.

Home making

Our little charmer seeks warm blood on which to live and sets camp on its human host in areas of the body where blood vessels are found closest to the skin.

Knowing what a tick looks for and knowing your own body means they are often easy to find.

Swing low

Genitals are the warmest enclave on a human body, an area where blood vessels run close to the skin surface. They are also the closest to the ground. Particularly so on a male.

This being so, I have found ticks often migrate to the same area – don’t panic and certainly don’t mistake his approach for over-familiarity. It is better to have this homing beacon on one’s body than to have the critters migrate to a hundred other places.

In the grand scheme the experience is only a mild inconvenience – soldiers where a condom in tropical swamps to avoid leaches doing far worse!

Always seek professional medical advice.

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