Common Tick Behaviors and How to Stay Protected Every Day

Dr. Thomas Mather, from the University of Rhode Island

Dr. Thomas Mather provides an overview of tick behavior, their life cycle, and how they become carriers of different pathogens. Additionally, he delves into the intricacies of tick activity throughout the seasons and varying risks associated with specific months. He concludes with a strong recommendation advocating for the use of permethrin-treated clothing as an effective measure to prevent tick bites, emphasizing the importance of such preventive measures every day.

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Transcript of the Interview

Mary Collins: Hi, I'm Mary with Insect Shield and I'm here with Dr. Tom Mather University, Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center. Um, and Tom is our resident tick expert. Uh, Tom, can you introduce yourself and tell us about your background?

Dr. Thomas Mather: Yeah, sure. So, Dr. Tom Mather. But you know, some people don't necessarily remember names like that, but they almost always remember, oh, you're the tick guy. Um, and so I've decided years ago to just let that go and I will just be the tick guy for people. And, um, everybody needs a tick guy in the world these days, don't you think Mary?

Mary Collins: I would say, I think so, definitely. Uh, there's a lot to learn about ticks and I hope today we're gonna learn some new things, um, kind of beyond just the basic prevention. We can touch upon. Um, but we have a lot of resources, um, at our Equip4Ticks, uh, website, which you are expert and also of course at, uh, at tick

You have all sorts of resources and that's, that's your mission. Um, so one thing I wanted to talk about, you know, we know ticks are, have a lot of carry diseases. How do they get. , how do they become carriers and how are the different phases? So there's, there's three phases of tick

Dr. Thomas Mather: so there's a, there's a lot to unpack in that there, Mary. So let's start, I, I, Just gave a lecture to my, um, class and we were, we started with reservoirs and maybe I should have started with ticks. So these are two different things. So people don't, it turned out the students didn't know what a reservoir was.

They were thinking of the pond up the road that where their, their water came from. But in the context of diseases caused by. Ticks, get their germs from wildlife and, um, wildlife carry different germs and ticks can pick up different germs, depends on the type of tick. And so we can sort of get into that in, in a minute.

But, you know, all ticks come in small, medium and large sizes. And when they. Are attached and feeding. They get supersized, so small, medium, and large. And there's one extra stage in that life cycle, and that is the small ones come from eggs. So there's eggs, small ones we call larvae, medium, ones we call nymphs.

And the large ones we call adults and adults come in two flavors, male and female. And. Most ticks do that. There's actually one tick that we could talk about. Asian longhorn ticks that only only have females, but,

Mary Collins: okay.

Dr. Thomas Mather: curious. Anyway, so there's a lot of cool things going on with, with ticks and um, We have small, medium, and large ticks.

People are like, how are you ever gonna see that small one? It's the size of a, of a salt grain, you know? And so that's an issue for people. You know, the nymph is likened to the size of a poppy seed on a bagel, and that's kind of small when you think about. That we've tried to teach people that they're, they need to just adjust their eyes right when they're looking.

They have to know what they're looking for. And so these different types and stages of ticks come in different locations in America, and they also come at different times of the year. So, um, at tick encounter, we have. Five core things that we think people should know and do. And one of them, and I think the most important one, a good place to start is everyone should know the types of ticks that occur, where they live and when they're active.

So, and that's not gonna be the same for every place. And so in the springtime, I often am interviewed by, um, Different media sources, and they almost always start with how bad are the ticks going to be this year? And most of my colleagues probably knowing that they won't be wrong, will say, oh, they're gonna be bad.

Because generally speaking, one tick is one too many for most people. And so they, they're always going to be right that they're bad if they get one tick. Well, it was bad. See, I told you it was bad, but. Years ago, I started stopping the reporter right there and I said, whoa, whoa. You know, we need to unpack that question.

How tick, how bad are tick's going to be this year? Because, um, it depends on what tick you're talking about and where your, where, where your publication is going to be viewed because different ticks have different stages at different times of the year. And um, it is true that may tends to be the tickiest month of the year in general across all of North America.

But outside of that, if you're trying to say, well, you know, so actually sometimes ticks won't be so bad at that time of the year, like, , you're planning your vacation already for August. Well, guess what? That's actually one of the least tickiest times of the year. Yet people think, oh, how can that be? It's summertime.

Everything that bites is worse in August. Mosquitoes are worse in August. They more likely to transmit diseases in August. Well, it turns out that's a time of the year in the tick life cycle that the larval stage. The tiny one, the littlest one, the small, medium and large, the smallest one are active and one they're not generally carrying germs, and two, they're so small people can't see them anyway.

They may be there, but they people may are less likely to get them or see them even on them if they did get them. But it doesn't matter because they're not likely to be carrying germs

Mary Collins: Right, and that's, so the larva ones, why are they then, they're unlikely to be carrying germs because they have not found a host to get germs from, is that right?

Dr. Thomas Mather: Exactly. So most ticks, um, hatch out of their eggs pathogen free without any germs. There are a couple of, there's always some exceptions to the rule, right? And so there are a couple, um, germs that actually do pass through the egg to the larvae, but um, they're not. It's the most common one. Certainly Lyme disease, which is what most people are concerned about, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease does not do that, doesn't pass through the eggs.

So in order for a tick to become infected, it has to bite a host that is what we call a reservoir, uh, an animal that's

Mary Collins: That's our

Dr. Thomas Mather: carry carrying the germs, but has to be, is capable of giving it. Giving up their infections. So some animals stringently hold onto their infections. They don't pass it along to every tick that comes along, but they may pass it along.

One, one specific kind of tick may be able to fish it out of the reservoir and and become infected, whereas others don't, and that's kind of an interesting situation. So like we see that with the three most common ticks in, in America are the American dog tick, the black legged tick and the western black legged tick on the, on the West coast and lone star ticks.

Those are the, the most common ticks people and pets get. And it turns out that black legged ticks can fish the, the. Lyme disease bacteria out of their reservoir. Usually a small rodent, like a mouse or a chipmunk or something, but American dog ticks and lone star ticks feeding on exactly the same host don't become infected.

So I mean it's, so that's why we've come down, actually just recently written a blog, um, called different ticks, transmit Different Germs, different ticks, different germs,

Mary Collins: Right. And even if the same host,

Dr. Thomas Mather: Even if it's the same host. In fact, when I did the experiments back in, um, 1990, it was published, we put all the larvae of all three of those species of ticks on the exact same mouse and let them feed.

And then we look to see which ones became infected. And only the black legged ticks, um, became infected to a point where they could transmit the germ in their next blood meal. The American dog ticks and the lone star ticks, um, they might have ingested contaminated blood, but they didn't become infected themselves, and so they weren't able to transmit it.

Mary Collins: And that's for lime because

Dr. Thomas Mather: That's for Lyme

Mary Collins: other, so let me ask. So, okay, so the larval tick, say a black legged tick finds a D. It's a, it's a larval stage. It's looking for food, blood. Cuz they feed blood's, their food gets on a deer. Feeds, gets the bacteria in them, in gets the

Dr. Thomas Mather: Well, I've gotta, I've gotta stop you there, Mary. So it depends on, so the, the definition of the word reservoir, so where the germs come from, um, depends, like, certainly deer are infected, but they don't. Get a enough of a, uh, they don't give a tick enough of a dose for the tick to become infected. So we call them incompetent as a reservoir.

So they're certainly infected, but not infective to ticks feeding on them, but other animals are. Um, in particular white-footed mice, which are ubiquitous in our landscapes. Um, chipmunks are pretty common as well. Squirrels also common, certain species of birds also capable of not only being infected, but being infective when ticks are feeding on them as well.

So there's a really important distinction to make.

Mary Collins: because, I mean, one thing too, I am in air, well, I'm in, um, North Carolina, but grew up in Maryland and there's just deer everywhere and everyone's, there's people, they're blaming deer for Lyme disease. So is

Dr. Thomas Mather: Well, so, so that's okay. They, they can, because. What deer do is they give the adult stage, tick their blood meal so that they can lay 1500 to 3000 eggs to make all of those larvae that then feed on reservoir competent animals like chipmunks and mice. But so without the deer in the, in the. Whole life cycle of the tick.

We wouldn't probably have as many ticks and then there would be less ticks getting germs and less germs coming into people as well. So the deer have an important role. We call them instead of a reservoir host, we call them a reproductive host. reproductive for the ticks.

Mary Collins: But they're not spreading. deer themselves are not. Okay. I, that's a

Dr. Thomas Mather: fact, if any larvae get on the deer, they end up taking a blood meal that is not infected and those end up being the uninfected ticks in the environment.

Mary Collins: those are almost the good ones. So then, okay, so. then. So say we've, so it's found a . Okay. I, okay. We won't. But then, so we have, so, okay, so they fed. So let's say they had, they found a mouse that was infective. They had their first meal, then they drop off of the mouse.

Dr. Thomas Mather: They do. So those larvae, remember we just mentioned that August was a time that they're active. So the um, you know, I know most people like to think of a calendar starting in January and going

Mary Collins: we can go for the school

Dr. Thomas Mather: Yeah. So we're gonna go, we're gonna, we're gonna go August and in August, almost every mouse in the Nor Woods in the northeast at least, um, are infected with Lyme disease germ.

Why is that? Because the preceding. Springtime and summer, they were being fed on by nymphs, and the nymphs would then be carrying the germ to, and then they keep having new mice, of course, right? Mice just keep breeding and breeding. And so by August you have not only a large population of mice, but almost all of them had been infected just a month or two earlier by the earlier state, the the older stage of the tick.

Mary Collins: so

they kind of put it back and forth, so like the,

Dr. Thomas Mather: So the larvae then are busy picking up germs, um, from these mice. And if it's the Lyme disease germ, they're, you know, a very high number of them become infected. So it turns out then they drop off of the mouse and go through the winter and come out as the next stage, which is that middle stage called the nymph, the following spring.

Mary Collins: So what's a typical lifespan of a tick?

Dr. Thomas Mather: So these black legged ticks in the eastern United States, and you know, even in the western United States, the western black legged tick, they, they generally take two years to go through their entire cycle. Because of that, that the, you know, the larvae starting in the fall, they pass through the winter, the, in the springtime, the second stage comes out, the nymphs, then they feed, and then they get a blood meal.

They also potentially have transmitted germs, but then they become the adults of that following fall, so that, you know, the, the nymphs in the spring become the adults in the fall, the adults in the fall get on deer, get enough of a blood meal, they fall off of the deer, and then they lay their eggs and those eggs hatch again the following spring.

So, You think about it, the, in the fall, the stage that's at the, the end of the summer, the stage that's active is the larvae. In the fall, the stage that's active is the adult. In the early spring, the leftover adults are active, so as soon as it's warms up enough for ticks to move their little legs, and then in the springtime the nymphs come out and um, they become, then the next falls adults.

Yeah, so it's a two year goes. Two years to get through the whole life cycle.

Mary Collins: And then, okay, so then, well, one thing for reproduction is there, like, like, I mean, cuz there's male and female ticks, like, is is there like, tick sex happening? Like, how's that, how's the

Dr. Thomas Mather: Yeah, so that really gets kind of spicy. we talk about blacklegged ticks, there's, there's really, in the tick world, there's two different kinds. We call them pro striate ticks and meta striate ticks. You don't need to remember that. The, the pros striate ticks, though are all of the. Ticks that are in the genus that starts with Ixodes, Ixodes is the one that the black legged ticks are as well.

And so those ticks, um, are fairly Randy and they will mate off of the host the other kind of ticks called the meta Striate. Ticks actually, in order for the male to become potent. Um, the male, um, it has to actually attach to the host and feed just a little bit. It doesn't en gorge like a female tick does, but it has to attach so that those ticks, like American dog ticks and lone star ticks, they, they will, um, the female will attach to the host.

The male will be wandering around the host and when it senses where the female is, it partners up next to it, but bites next to it, and then they can pass their sperm. Across that little gap that the black legged ticks do it differently. They, in fact, you can find them mating on the bushes, um, sometimes, um, which shows that the males don't really need a blood meal for their sperm to be activated.

and, um, so there, there is a little bit of a difference there, but the males, uh, of the black legged don't really, they, they might seem like they're latching on, they're really just kind of holding on, hoping that the, they'll be around when a female comes to the host and then they, they can go and mate with it.

So you do find male and female black legged mating on hosts, but they, um, also are mating off hosts.

Mary Collins: Okay. Interesting. Okay. So I guess then, okay. But again, going back to, you know, people avoiding ticks, so you said it's really in May when we have the, the nymph, those are the ones that people should be most concerned

Dr. Thomas Mather: Well, so they, they, they actually aren't as infected as highly infected as the adults, but they're small and people don't see them, and so that, that makes it really problematic. So they generally come out in, you know, in May. , and then they're active in May and June and into July, and usually by the end of July it's, it's become hotter and drier in most locations.

And they're, they're very sensitive to drying out. And so if they, if they dry out, then, then they die. But if we happen to have a wet. And so we could be looking ahead at, you know, what, what's going on with the climate change situation. If we start in certain locations, you know, start experiencing wetter and, and, um, more moist, late summers, like August, these ticks can survive.

You know, in the laboratory we can keep them for a year in our incubator under ideal humidity conditions. So it's not like it's impossible for them to survive, it's just that they, they often run into dry drying conditions and then sort of peter out by the end of the sum, by, actually by, in July. Um, we start usually getting, but there's just gonna be places where, you know, like up against the.

The Shenandoah Ridge along the Appalachian Trail, for instance. It's, it's cooler and moisture and it may be slightly more moist for those ticks to survive a little longer. So it, it's a rule of thumb of when these ticks are, but there's gonna be certain places where people are still going to be at risk.

And so it's kind of important to remember that. But they, those nymphs come out in, in generally in May and June and into July. And that's, you know, If it was that they extended that people would be getting more disease because then those nymphs are hard to see and more people are out in July and August, then are out in May and and June just because school and people aren't going to camps where they're outside and in the woods and stuff.

So it's actually a lucky thing at the nymphs kind of truncate their, their season of activity in July. Maybe it's a bit of surprise for people listening to this, that actually if, if you are, um, doing an outdoor camping trip, August is actually more likely to be a safer time for you than than July.

Mary Collins: Okay. So then, okay, so then going back to then the protection at different times of kind of the, the, the phases. So we talked about the most of the larval. , they have not had a blood meal, so they will not transmit disease. They can cause some discomfort. I think we were recently together and one of our colleagues actually had a run in of the Laurel and came home after tick hunting and had what she thought was, you know, developed freckles all over her body.

But, so there was no worry of disease in that case, but

Dr. Thomas Mather: Well, yeah. So disease. Yeah, disease caused by germs. In her case, the, the bites themselves, um, elicited sort of an allergic reaction. So it was a bit itchy for her.

Mary Collins: So then that, and then, so when we're going out, the other times, if you, one thing I think, cause I've heard you say like you have to think like, like an animal. So depending on the tick, you're worried about where, where they're gonna be. If they're one really looking for like a mouse and they're super low, or maybe they're looking for.

A raccoon so they could be a little bit higher in the brush. Like how does, how do the different ticks, like what are they looking for and how does that affect

Dr. Thomas Mather: Yeah, so that.

Mary Collins: ourselves?

Dr. Thomas Mather: I, I like that story cuz a lot of times people think, oh, ticks fall out of trees onto their head. Why did they think that? Because the American dog tick being a big, robust tick, latches on and crawls up. All ticks crawl up because the skin is thinner on not just humans. Heads, but in on animals as well.

And it's easier for them to put their little mouth part through thin skin and suck blood, right? So the ones that didn't do that didn't get a good blood meal and sort of have been lost to natural selection over eons of time. But the ones, so you can just think that. In order to, you know, we're seeing now sort of the, the, the war that went on between animals and ticks and the ones that were successful were not the ones that spent all of their energy climbing up 20 feet into a tree to.

Cross across a limb, wait for the exact right host to walk exactly underneath of them because they, they don't have wings and actually they don't have eyes, so they can't actually see. And so, and they don't have anything to measure which way the wind is blowing. So it was, those ticks have been lost through evolution a long time ago.

The ones that decided that the best strategy for them to find a host was to climb up a tree. You know, remember how small these things are. across a

Mary Collins: a long

Dr. Thomas Mather: crawl a limb only to. Jump and miss and have to go through that process again, right? Those are, those are long gone dead. The ones that have been successful have figured out what's the animals that I do best at stealing blood from.

They don't care about the germs. They only want the blood because that's how they're gonna grow to the next stage or grow so that they can lay eggs, right? And so how, which is the animal that I'm going to succeed best on and what's gonna be my best? Way of getting on them. So clearly if you are a larval stage tick and you are like most of these larvae, they come out of one egg batch.

So the female tick lays one egg, egg batch. It was on a deer. So you can find these engorged ticks in deer beds. All of the eggs hatch in one little quarter sized, um, area. Let's say there were. On that deer, there wasn't just one engorged tick, but there were six or eight or 10. Just think of that, you know, 18,000 larvae all in the space of, you know, two or three feet where the deer was betting down.

And so now the unfortunate mouse that runs through that spot, right? So you could think of a, a scurrying animal that's, you know, They're gonna be on the ground in the going through the leaves, and that's exactly where these ticks are going to latch on. And so if you were a deer, all that those little larvae would see of you are four pencil points walking through the leaf litter, right?

Not very much to grab hold of, but the, the mouse or the chipmunk that.

Mary Collins: They're so low. Yeah. Like

Dr. Thomas Mather: Flipping the leaves and everything, kind of looking for nuts and stuff. They're the ones that are gonna get it. So those larva just figured out, Hey, I'm gonna stay right here in the leaf litter where it's nice and humid and I know those stupid mice are gonna run through here eventually.

And you know, and there's a lot of us, so we're gonna, you know, swarm the guy. And, um, that's generally what happens. Usually you don't find just one or two larvae on. Mouse or on a person, usually. In the case of our colleague, you know, she had hundreds of them, so she ran into a whole pack. As if you remember, we were flagging down that path and, and we didn't just find one or two.

We found, you know, clusters of these larva, right? They were just everywhere. So that's the strategy of a, of a larval tick. The, the strategy of a nymphal tick is a little bit similar. They, they tend to stay where the humidity is the highest, and so they tend to get on the animals that are in that same space.

So if you're in the northeastern United States, you. In that space where that leaf litter is and it's humid. You've got mice, you've got chipmunks, you've got certain species of birds that are kind of rooting and browsing through the leaf litter, looking for something to eat, and those end up being the animals that these nymphs get on.

But if you were in the southeastern United States, That same space. It turns out that, that because of the dryness, the nymphs go just a little bit lower in the leaf pack. And the animals that they most likely encounter, there are, um, animals and um, lizards. Right. And it turns out that animals and lizards aren't

Mary Collins: an.

Dr. Thomas Mather: An animal is like a chameleon or

Mary Collins: Oh, so really like one of those, those little geckoy

Dr. Thomas Mather: yeah, exactly.

Mary Collins: I didn't, so those actually ticks will go for them.

Dr. Thomas Mather: They will. And in fact, that's the one of the most common hosts for larval black legged ticks in the southeast. But the good news is that those animals don't carry the germ that causes Lyme disease. So those larvae feeding on their preferred hosts don't.

They're bitting a host that doesn't give. The germs that cause Lyme disease. Whereas in the Northeast we don't have as many animals and lizards and so forth and so, and the ticks can come up just a fraction higher in the leaf litter where they're gonna end up running into mice and chipmunks. And they do carry the germ that causes Lyme disease.

And so that's why there's a, actually a difference in the risk for Lyme disease between the south and the north because the, in the number of ticks that pick up an infection in the north is much higher than the nu, than the proportion of ticks that pick up an infection in the south

Mary Collins: because the ho it's all

Dr. Thomas Mather: because they're on a different host.

Mary Collins: so then, so then again, so then going kind of back to protection, that's where Treated shoes, socks,

Dr. Thomas Mather: Right. So knowing the season that you're in and knowing where the ticks are in that season, so the larvae are out in August, let's say, you don't want larval bites because they're gonna make you itchy. , then you should be wearing treated shoes because that's the first place that those ticks are likely to get on you.

And then they'll crawl. They'll crawl up your legs. So you should be wearing treated socks and you know, wouldn't be a bad idea in case you didn't have treated shoes or treated socks, maybe to be thinking about wearing treated pants as well. So from the ground up, these ticks are getting from the protection needs to be from the ground up, you know?

Um, Insect Shield has a nice variety of of T-shirts that are treated and that's fine, but the ticks have trouble getting, getting up to where that treated t-shirt is. It may be good for the mosquitoes, but less, less important for protecting

Mary Collins: Or it's gonna have, or the, it's gonna have easily, it's gonna have attached before it gets to the T-shirt

Dr. Thomas Mather: most likely. So, you know, so we just think about where the ticks are and that's how we build our protection. And so from the ground up for ticks, maybe from the top down from for mosquitoes, um, would be sort of an easy rule of thumb to think about it. But then, but then those nymphs that feed on a chipmunk or a mouse or a bird become the adult stage ticks in the fall.

Now the adult stage, Don't feed on a mouse. They, they, I've actually trapped thousands and thousands of mice. I've never found one. They feed on a slightly larger animal. The most preferred animal is a whitetail deer. And so if you think about, if you were an adult tick and you wanted to get on a whitetail deer, you wouldn't stay on the ground because again, all you would see of that deer going through the woods is these four little pencil points right as the deer walks through.

Instead, you would climb up just a little bit higher. So that you would get on the biggest part of the animal, sort of its haunches or whatever, and latch on. So you'd s you'd have more body mass to, to latch onto as the deer passes through the woods. And so that's where we find the adult stage.

Blacklegged ticks. Up a little bit higher, sort of about knee height. And so if you're trying to protect yourself at that time of year, so that's October and November and into December, and then again in March and April and May, when the adult stage ticks are active, you need to be, it's okay if you're wearing treated shoes and treated socks, but the ticks are actually latching on higher up on your pants and.

they're crawling. If your pants aren't treated, they're crawling up very quickly cuz they all crawl up towards the head region of their host and they're gonna be up underneath an untucked shirt. So that's why it's important to tuck your shirt in, to keep them on the outside. And at that point, your treated t-shirt will be nice area of protection as.

Mary Collins: So then, and the, and the adult ones. The adult ticks, I mean, are they moving faster because they've done this, like they kind of know what they're doing?

Dr. Thomas Mather: Yeah. Well, for one thing, their legs are longer they can make, they can cover the ground a little bit faster, you know? And, and Blacklegged ticks are fairly slow and methodical as they climb up anyway, they. I mean, some people might say, oh, that tick was really moving. If you wanna see a tick that really moves, um, this one that we call the lone Star Tick, um, it like sprints and so they can

Mary Collins: a tick race. 'em up.

Dr. Thomas Mather: They can be on your pant leg and up underneath your shirt in under a minute. And you know, most people are, you know, a lot of times people will look down and they might see it. That's why we tell people to wear light colored clothing, to help them see ticks that are crawling on them. But if with these lone star ticks, you gotta be like constantly looking, so you're missing looking around because busy looking at the, for the ticks.

Mary Collins: So typic. So basically, even though the a deer is not infective, most of these ticks or many of them were already infected or got the, like an infection like from the mouse when they were little, when they were in their, the kind of nymphal stage. And even though they go feed the deer on the deer later, they already have enough of the Lyme or the other bacteria in them that.

Dr. Thomas Mather: Yeah, so if they pick it up as a larva, they then, They, you know, they, in growing, they actually completely transform inside of the shell of that engorged larva. And then they emerge out as a, as a nymph. And so then those nymphs are potentially carrying the germs right then. And then when they feed, they can transmit it.

Um, and then when the nymphs transform, they transform into the adult stage. They carry the infection through that transformation into the adult stage too. So that's why the, the adult infection rate is what we call it, the number, the proportion of ticks infected. Is double that of the nymphs because the nymphs have had two chances, two blood meals.

They could have picked it up as a larva, and then they have some portion of them are infected as a nymph. If that nymph feeds on a infected animal, then it sort of, and it missed its infection. The first round as a larva now has a second chance to get infected before it becomes an adult. So we tend to see.

In the Northeastern United States and the Upper Midwest, about half of the adult stage black legged ticks are infected with the Lyme disease Spirochete. In the nymphs in the same area, only about 20% or 25% are. So, um, there's more nymphs than adults, but, and they're smaller, so they're harder to see. So that makes them riskier.

And so most people actually get. If they're gonna get Lyme disease, they get it usually in the summertime when the nymphs have been biting as opposed to when the adults have been biting. But the adults actually are quite risky. Um, when you think about one in two ticks that you get on yourself, um, in your fall hikes, if you're not paying attention, they're carrying infection.

So it's it's riskier

Mary Collins: now do we find, do you find, so obviously we're talk always about going on hikes and being out kind of in the wilderness where there's other animals. But you know, like I said, I'm where I live in like, you know, kind of a suburb. They're deer. You know, I get if you get up early in the morning, all of a sudden the dogs barking because there's a deer walking down the street.

I mean, did, is there concern Just like in my yard or in some like, because there are deer, you know, cuz, and we have like a little creek nearby. Did we

Dr. Thomas Mather: the things about, you know, the, the, you know, people lived in the cities back in the 19. Thirties and forties, and then they started moving out into the suburbs wanting to commune with nature. People love that, you know, and I love that. I mean, that's, my house is like that as well. And I have actually, I had a bobcat run through my yard the other day.

I've got deer regularly. I got more mice, and I know what to do with, you know, chipmunks. They're on average in a wood. Chipmunks supposedly are, um, five to seven per acre. That's what they say. One year in my one acre yard, I was able to live trapped 40 chipmunks, so I got way more of these reservoirs than I.

I wish I had . Good news is I've been able to, um, reduce the number of ticks so that these animals are, even though they're competent as reservoirs, they're not feeding ticks in my yard because there are no ticks there. So how do I do that? I do a, a yard treatment and if you use the right kind of product and you use it in the right places, and we teach this with pest professionals how to do.

The most effective way you can actually reduce your exposure to ticks by reducing the number of, um, reproducing ticks in your yard, basically. So we kill them rather

Mary Collins: So really when anyone is out, I mean, The conversation also just needs to be gardening, mowing your lawn, you know, just being out in the yard, throwing, you know, playing catch with the dog like you should just, protection should be all the time. It

Dr. Thomas Mather: Exactly, so, know.

Mary Collins: hiking and you know, go on the trail.

Dr. Thomas Mather: And so how do we get people to do that is really, um, my biggest, um, focus. Like we have things that work. People are always looking for the next magic bullet we have for. Very effective strategies now, but what we need is to have more, um, buy-in, more people doing it. Um, and so how do we build strategies First, I think we need to engage people and say, Hey, this tick problem isn't just the one.

From what you heard on the internet or something, it's, it's potentially you as well. I mean, we hear through our crowdsource tick survey, people send us pictures of their tick they've encountered and they often will say, Hey, I've lived in this neighborhood in the same house for 20 years or 30 years. This is the first time I've ever seen a tick.

What's going on? Guess what? We live in a more ticks in more places world, and it's increasingly that way. And you, what you just said, you know, living in suburbia and seeing deer in your backyard, people didn't see that. I mean, think about it. 50 or a hundred years ago, if you saw a deer in your backyard, you probably shot it and ate it for dinner.

Right now, no one's shooting them and eating them for dinner, and it's like, so now they're everywhere. You know? That's the big issue with, with what we call this whole group of diseases called zoo zoonotic diseases. They come from animals, wildlife, and affect people, you know. Humans have had a huge impact on this.

Not just the animals. What have we done? We've taken away where the animals used to like to live, and we've plopped ourselves in that space. And so now we're surprised that we're living with the same things that the animals used to live with. Now we have to live with them too. These things called ticks.

Uh, you know, we we're aghast and think that, you know, what's wrong with the world? You know, why can't I have my cake and eat it too? Well, you can. You just have to. Good personal protection strategies and one

Mary Collins: I think it's important to think it's not, and also it is the every day, it's the yard. I mean, it's just getting that, it's not, it's not like you're special, like, oh, only do that when I'm going out for the hike. It's uh, or the camping trip. It's, you know, I'm gonna go do gardening, you know, and I'm down low and yeah, I mean, there's.

Dr. Thomas Mather: I was, I was sitting with, um, friends at dinner once, and then there was, at the next table there was somebody I, I didn't know, but the one of the friends knew. And so somehow, you know, whenever I'm around, the discussion always res, comes into ticks. And so the guy was saying, oh yeah, you know, we were talking about personal protection and wearing treated socks.

When you go for. You know, a hike. And he said, oh, I have some of those treated socks. And I said, oh, great. You know, and I said, so what's what? Why, why are you getting ticks on you? And he said, well, I, I didn't wear them. I wasn't going on a hike. I was walking my dog. I'm like, oh, well that's kind of the same thing.

Um, you know, so you don't have to be saving your. Treated socks for your hike on the Appalachian Trail, which you may do once in your lifetime when you're walking your dog three times a day in probably the same, if not higher area of risk. Um, you know, it's really. How do we overcome people's thinking about that?

That they, you know, one of the ways that that I've done it is one, I, I know about ticks, right? So getting people to know about the risk of ticks and how it's, it's like, Pretty much, you know, it's not, I don't know if inevitable is the right word, word, but they, that ticks are potentially in a lot of spots and they do nasty things.

So coming to the apprecia appreciation of that first and foremost, I think is a, is a good, you know, I call that engagement. So I'm engaged in, in this whole idea. I know that ticks are not good for me. for my children. And so what can I do? I, I wanna protect myself. All right, so now I'm going to step outside and I have my step outside clothes.

I usually, when I step outside, I'm mostly going to do gardening, like some brush clearing or something. I'm, I know I'm gonna be a. In tick habitat, and so I need to, so I put my tick protective clothes on before I step outside. as easy as that. I come back inside, I take my tick protective clothes off, and then I do a quick scan of my skin to see if any ticks have gotten by.

I, I really have. Maybe I've gotten a little bit cocky about this, but I find it so effective that I hardly ever find an attached tick when I'm wearing my tick protective clothing.

Mary Collins: so let's, okay, so I mean, there's a lot more we could go through. I was just thinking. One quick side thing. I mean, when I was growing up, you know, when I was young 30, 40 years ago, our thing with sun protection was completely different. You know, like we would just help tell Sunburnt could you get, and how that's changed.


Dr. Thomas Mather: and it's, and it and Right. And now that's changed so much. We were, we were, um, in the winter we were at an indoor pool and this kid was having histrionics because he had forgotten his swim, his swim shirt. You don't need a swim shirt, it, you're inside. Right.

Mary Collins: changed the, the mentality is

Dr. Thomas Mather: That's what I'm, that in my job of trying to protect people from tick bites, I'd like to get to that point where, People have histrionics when they're not wearing their treated clothing as the best personal protection.

Instead, they're like, there's all of this hearsay. Uh, well, I, I, I wanna put some lavender oil on my skin cuz I like the smell and it keeps the ticks away. Well, Yes, it smells nice, but it isn't really very effective at keeping the ticks away. You know, tests that we've done have shown that some of these products really aren't as effective as a tick repellent or a tick

Mary Collins: Well, and unfortunately if they're not, they. If it's natural, they can make claims that don't have to be substantiated. So people need to be careful of what a claim is and what is actually a proven claim or just what's a claim,

Dr. Thomas Mather: but people all think that when you see a product on the shelf and it says it kills ticks or it repels ticks or something. But like you said, not all of the products actually had to be vetted, um, by science. Um, because the, the e p a has exemptions for some of these natural products, so we don't, you know, they may say that it's that way, but we don't really know.

Um, whereas products that have to go through e p a registration, you know, we do know. We could, you know, with confidence that they've been tested. Um, some of them may not be as effective as you want them to be, but they are still likely to be more effective than, you know, going out but naked without any, any protection on.

Mary Collins: Um, alright, well one thing, so to, we'll just wrap up though, case, can you just tell us if, if you do find a tick your steps so you find a tick attached quick, just briefly and then, and like I said, we have a lot of information on, on or Equip4Ticks. There's a lot of things on your website. Um, on tick, we have TikToks, we have all sorts of stuff.

But go through just, here's what, okay, I found a tick. What do I.

Dr. Thomas Mather: right? So finding a tick is really, you know, the first step to open the door to knowing what to do next. And so if you've found a tick, a lot of times people aren't prepared for that. So one thing is to sort of be ready, at least in your head. I may find a tick. So if I find a tick, don't just throw it away, like, because it grosses you out or flush it down the sink or the toilet because you don't know what kind of ticket is. And we know that different types of ticks transmit different germs. So the first thing you'd really like to know is, well, I wonder if it's one of those Lyme disease carrying ticks, but I don't know how to tell the ticks apart.

Well, guess what? I do? And so you can send me a picture of the tick through our tick spotters program. So on tick encounter our website, there's a found the tick section. It couldn't be clearer. Really? Oh yeah. I found a tick. Click on that button and you'll come to a a, a page that allows you to attach your picture, fill out.

Little form to tell us a little bit about, you know, where it was and everything. And in less than a day you'll get back an answer confirming what kind of ticket was, how long it may have been attached, and what it likely could do to you. Like what germs it might. And then it also comes with some information about how do I keep this from happening

again, you know, leading people towards, okay. It's an, you know, I think someone who finds a tick is going to be very engaged. That's like an engagement step to knowing and wanting to do something about it. Those people tend to be the ones that will then seek out wearing protective clothing, for instance, because they don't want it to happen again.

Oh, I, I didn't get sick this time. Next time it could be something different. And so they take appropriate actions. So that Tick Spotters program is really our way of trying to be a resource for people that just found a tick.

Mary Collins: No, that's great. Um, well, thank you. I mean, really it's, I mean I think we talked just more about ticks cuz we talk so much about protecting from ticks and, you know, the different diseases and the bacterias, but actually like learning about how the ticks are going about doing their thing. I think the more we know about that can help everyone and like this, I mean, and actually, you know,

I usually have my socks on when I take the dog out for the walks. But , I have to make sure and making sure ev all the, you know, all the shoes are sprayed, not just our trail shoes. I think that's a good reminder that it's just every day and it should just, like you, it's just part of your, you know, why not have all your sneakers sprayed, not just

Dr. Thomas Mather: Exactly. The, that's the nice thing about, about, um, the insect Shield technology for instance, is that it makes it possible that you've got the possibility in it. There's no reason not to do it. I mean, if you have a dog that you're walking every day, you, you, you know, our studies have shown that most people protect their pet against ticks well, What about yourself?

You're you're usually about three feet or so away from that dog. Why not protect yourself too? So if you start thinking, okay, so now you know it wasn't too hard to give the dog a monthly chew tablet or something like that. Is it any harder really to take that can of spray

Mary Collins: Mean, and this could be a whole nother podcast conversation because why is it we just, you know, we're at the vet and I mean, they always ask, okay, so your dog's on some sort of prevention. I mean, that's part, and I was doing, you know, that's always a question. And Yvette, they're confirming that as a good pet parent, I am doing that for my dog.

But you know, that's then, but not a conversation for people. Are you going, you know, the kids are going off to school and they have, you know, maybe the school is, you know, in the suburbs and there's the, you know, there animals, the same kind of thing running around, and yet that's not part of like, okay, the kids are going to recess and or the walk school or they walk, they walk to school or school

Dr. Thomas Mather: Waiting at the neighborhood corner for the bus or walking through the cut through path to get to the school or

Mary Collins: but like, I felt like if I went to the vet and said, oh, oh, we do, we haven't been keeping the dog, you know, flea and tick prevention, it'd be like, you're a horrible pet parent and maybe your dog should be taken from you. I mean, that's almost feeling you get. And yet for people, we're not considering these.

So it's, uh, it's something to think about

Dr. Thomas Mather: It is. Yeah. Well, thanks for, um, talking with

me today and hopefully anybody listening to this will, will be slightly convicted and say, oh, yeah, I, I should be doing that. And all we want them to know is that yeah, the resources are there and it's actually not that hard to do, you know?

every time you open the little capsule to put something on your dog, think about, you know, taking a can and spraying your shoes as well. You do that once a month. You will add, add protection against ticks to your life as well as to your dog's life.

Mary Collins: Exactly. Well, thank you so much. It was really informative. Really appreciate your time.

Dr. Thomas Mather: Yeah. Thank you.