Maple Tree – Tick Prevention

Q: When I sit under a maple tree in my backyard in summer, I get ticks in my hair. How can I prevent ticks on the tree?

A: According to tick expert Dr. Nancy Hinkle, ticks do not fall from trees, because they’re not in trees in the first place. Ticks hang around at ground level because they depend on high humidity. They move up on grass blades, about ankle level, never more than knee high, to wait for mammal hosts. If they become dehydrated, they move back to the soil, absorb moisture, then move back up. Ticks are negatively geotropic: they migrate upwards on the host, typically gravitating to the head area. This explains why they are most often found on the scalp. Tuck your pants into your socks and wear light-colored clothing when in tick habitats, which enables frequent visual checks to see if ticks are migrating up your body.

>>Theresa responds: “Your average deer tick doesn’t climb trees. In fact, no ticks climb trees. However, the bird tick (Ixodes brunneus) which latches itself to birds when perched low or feeding on the ground will drop off when done feeding. It’s highly likely that the infested bird was perching higher in a tree when the tick let go. As you pointed out, the dropping tick you saw had already fed on a host. There are population cycles of this tick, some years high, others not. They are common to the Southeast.

>>>Nancy replies” ” I certainly concur with Ms. Schrum’s response, especially since the reader made the point that it was a “big fat tick,” indicating that it had already fed. Certainly a bird tick could dislodge and fall from a bird in a tree; but these ticks (1) don’t feed on humans and (2) once fed, do not subsequently attach to another host (they lay eggs and die).

As you know, most people don’t differentiate between ticks and various other arthropods. We’ve had aphids submitted as “ticks,” as well as coccinellid larvae, adult beetles, and numerous other insects. Not having seen specimens of what the reader found in the pool or falling from the trees, I cannot venture a guess as to what it might have been, but I have to adhere to the science and repeat that there are no ticks that climb trees.

That said, I certainly don’t expect to change everyone’s preconceptions! A friend of mine frequently quotes Mark Twain’s statement, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain’t so.”

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