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Environment & Science

Bursts of Warm Weather in CNY Could Lead to Earlier Tick Sightings

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The recent occasional warm spells we’ve seen in Central New York not only get people outside to enjoy the weather, but also ticks.  Nick Piedmonte has conducted extensive research on ticks, specifically the prevalent Blacklegged or deer tick found in this region. 

"We’ll get these periodic warm ups in February and early March," Piedmonte said. "Even a day or two is enough to bring them back out, and the surviving adult, these are kind of the leftovers from last season, taking this last ditch effort to get a blood meal from a host in order to lay their eggs in later Spring. " 

Piedmonte says the ticks never really go away during the winter months.  They lie dormant in leaf litter and are insulated by snow cover.  Much like us, they become more active when it warms above 40 degrees.  But Piedmonte says sudden drops in temperature below freezing like we saw overnight Thursday can cause a perceivable population decline.

"We had that warm up that melted the snow and now that they don’t have that snow cover to insulate them from the cold winds that could potentially help to reduce the populations. But to the extent of wiping them all out, that’s very unlikely."

So, Piedmonte says, all the more reason to check yourself and pets after a walk.  He says research in Onondaga county indicates roughly half of the adult deer ticks carry Lyme disease, the most common pathogen.  And, Piedmonte says, research shows it doesn’t seem to matter where you live, exposure to ticks and disease is about the same.

"A lot of people may not think that if they are in an urban park, walking to through the woods, or in their own garden in a suburban environment," Piedmonte said. "But actually in reality, it is about equivalent to what you would see in rural areas outside of the city in each direction."

Why is that?  Piedmonte says his running hypothesis centers on the mice, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer that thrive alongside humans. 

"You have these small urban green spaces with these forests," Piedmonte said. "You have such a small area and you’re packing all these species in closer proximity than they might be in more rural environments, where you have these more contiguous forest, more area for them to spread out. The higher association in these smaller patches can potentially make it easier for these ticks to find hosts because they are much closer together."

Piedmonte says if you find a tick, the state health department has instructions on how to safely remove it.  If you can, save it in a vial or bag for testing.