Signs of Spring: Ticks

By John Wilson, Extension Educator

John Wilson

John Wilson

Sometimes things just fall into place! Last Sunday afternoon, my wife and I did some work in the trees behind our home. Later that evening she was watching some show on TV I couldn’t have cared less about, so I decided I’d go write my column since I didn’t get that done on Friday. I hadn’t been at my computer more than 15 minutes, trying to decide what to write about, when I hear her coming my way. My topic became clear with her question, “Can you get this tick out of my hair?”

Ticks are close relatives of mites and spiders and pass through four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, nymph and adult. All stages except the egg are blood-sucking parasites. The larvae and nymphs often feed on smaller animals and birds. Some nymphs and adults typically feed on larger animals, including humans and pets.

Ticks locate their hosts by “questing.” During questing, ticks climb to the tips of vegetation and extend their front legs out away from their bodies while holding to the vegetation with the remaining legs. As potential hosts pass by questing ticks, the hooks on the ends of the front legs become attached to the host and pull the tick from the vegetation. Once on the host, ticks may spend several hours seeking areas to settle, then insert their mouthparts and begin feeding.

Removing an Attached Tick

Prompt removal of embedded ticks is important as the risk of disease transmission increases the longer ticks are attached and biting. The best method for removing a feeding tick attached to an animal or human is to grasp it as close as possible to the skin of the host with tweezers.

Gently, yet firmly apply steady pressure on the tick until you pull it out. If you try to jerk or twist the tick out, you risk the mouthparts breaking off and remaining in the skin where a hard nodule will form until your body naturally breaks it down. Always clean out the wound with a good antibacterial product to help prevent infection.

Do not grasp or squeeze the rear portion of the tick’s body. This can expel the gut contents of the tick into your tissues and increase the likelihood of disease transmission if the tick is infected with disease-causing organisms. The use of tape, alcohol, or Vaseline to cover the tick and cause it to voluntarily pull its mouthparts out of the skin is not effective.

Personal Protection

Ticks usually crawl onto people below the knees and then crawl upwards. When you are outdoors in known tick areas, wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear light colored clothes so it is easier to see ticks on you. For added protection, tuck pants inside socks. This helps keep them on the outside of your clothing, giving you more time to see and remove them before they get to your skin and start feeding.

Use repellents for additional protection. Apply them to socks, pant legs, and parts of clothing that may brush against vegetation. DEET and permethrin are effective repellents. You can apply DEET to clothing and skin. Apply permethrin only to clothing.

Check your clothes and yourself when you have been outdoors in known tick areas. Particularly examine yourself around the waist, under the arms, inner legs, behind the knees, and around the head, including in and around the ears and in the hair. Adults should help check their young children for ticks.


Tick control on animals is also important. Many pet owners choose simply to remove ticks regularly from their animals by hand. Other pet owners use chemical products to treat their pets for ticks. Dust or shampoo treatments that contain pesticides are often used, but remember that repeated applications are needed when using these products.

Tick collars are another option. These collars contain pesticides that kill ticks around the head and neck of pets. Manual inspection and removal of ticks on other areas of the body may still be necessary when using tick collars. In addition, collars need to be replaced occasionally in order to remain effective. When using tick collars, read the package carefully for instructions on use. Do not attempt to use these products for controlling ticks on humans.

Your local veterinarian can prescribe certain products for tick control on animals. These products are spot-on, which means you apply a few drops between the shoulder blades of your pet. The chemicals move through the oils of the skin to provide protection on all areas of the body. These products typically persist for up to a month. They are not repellents, so ticks may still temporarily attach to the animal, but those that attach typically die within 24 to 48 hours

In Your Yard

The numbers of ticks that are found on a property are influenced by the amount of favorable habitat that is found there such as brushy, or tall grassy areas, and the number and species of wildlife that are present. You can reduce tick numbers through landscape modification that creates a less favorable environment for ticks and their animal hosts.

Keep grass and vegetation short around homes, where it borders lawns, along paths, and in areas where people may contact ticks. It is not necessary to treat your lawn for ticks as ticks rarely infest maintained yards.

Remove leaf litter and brush, especially from buffer areas where the lawn borders grassy, brushy areas. Also prune trees and shrubs in these areas to allow more sunlight through as ticks are more common in shaded areas.

It is generally not effective to treat large areas of woods, brush, or grass with insecticides as insecticides do not always reach into areas where ticks are found in the leaf litter. Ticks can also be reintroduced into areas when wildlife carrying ticks move into previously treated areas.

In cases where high numbers of ticks are present in areas adjacent to home yards, treating the edges of wooded or brushy areas and paths can help reduce tick numbers. Use an insecticide labeled for a turf area, such as those containing permethrin, cyfluthrin, or carbaryl.

For more information on ticks and tick control, contact your local UNL Extension office.

About katcountryhub
I am a graduate of Northeast Community College with a degree in journalism. I am married to Jeff Gilliland. We have two grown children, Justin and Whitney and four grandchildren, Grayce, Grayhm, Charli and Penelope. I will be covering Lyons, Decatur, Bancroft and Rosalie and am hoping to expand my horizons as time progresses!

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