Tricks for ticks

Steve Gilliland
Special to the Globe

My wife’s dislike of ticks is legendary around our house, and that dislike greatly affects her enjoyment of spring and summer activities.

My brother in Ohio tells me the ticks are so bad there this year that just a walk down his driveway often ends with multiple ticks on them.

Ticks are tiny, slow-crawling, wingless, eight-legged parasites that feed exclusively on blood and their life cycle from egg, larvae, nymph to adult takes about one year to complete, so the ticks we see early each spring have survived the winter somehow either as eggs or adults.

They are found clinging to tall grass and weeds, in brush and on low over-hanging tree limbs where they wait for a host on which to attach. When any warm-blooded creature brushes against their “perch” they release their grip and cling to their new host.

Besides being creepy, the main problem with ticks here in Kansas is their ability to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis, none of which should be taken lightly.

All information I was given agreed that any tick found and removed within a few hours is unlikely to cause any disease problems.

If, however a tick is found already engorged with blood and has obviously been there a long time, it is wise to keep that tick in a jar of alcohol for 10 to 14 days so that if flu-like symptoms or a rash around the bite develops, the tick can be shown to the doctor to better help determine the correct course of treatment.

Also, if you wish to know what variety of tick you find, put one in a plastic zip lock bag and take it to your county extension office where they can identify it for you.

As a deterrent to ticks, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, tuck the shirt tail into your pants and roll and tuck the pants legs into your socks or shoes.

Additional protection can be had by wrapping rubber bands around your shirt’s sleeves at the wrist and around your pants legs at the ankle. Light colored clothing also helps by making ticks more visible as they search your pants or shirt for an opening.

Wear a hat if working or walking under low-hanging limbs. The same aerosol products containing DEET that repel mosquitoes also help repel ticks.

Spray your pants from feet to knees, your hands and wrists and around your collar. We use a product sold by the Sawyer Co. called Permethrin (which is the active ingredient.)

It’s used to spray clothing only and says it remains effective through six washes.

Always error on the pessimistic side and assume that no amount of deterrent will prevent all ticks from getting on you, so upon arrival back home, check everyone’s shoes and clothing for ticks. Shower as soon as possible, and if feasible launder all clothing.

Check everyone’s bare skin, looking for “crawling freckles” or skin flaps that weren’t there before.

Also check around the eyes, ears, nose and bellies of your pets.

Probably no other subject associated with the outdoors elicits a bigger variety of solutions than the removal of an attached tick.

I found everything from suffocating them with petroleum jelly, fingernail polish remover, butter, dish washing liquid or hot candle wax, to touching them with a hot needle or snuffed-out match.

I even found a tool called the O’Tom Tick Twister.

It’s a plastic rig resembling a tiny crow bar; the notch in the bent end of “the crow bar” is slipped over the tick and it’s pried out with the handle.

All the above methods will probably cause an embedded tick to detach itself, but all pose the distinct risk of causing the tick to regurgitate its gut or stomach contents back into your body, which besides being nasty, heightens the possibility of disease.

The one tried and true best method of removing an attached tick that was recommended above all others by every source I checked, is to grasp it snuggly by the head (completely against your skin) with a pair of slim tweezers and exert steady vertical pressure for a few seconds and the tick will detach itself.

We all know that spending time in the Kansas outdoors comes with the distinct possibility of finding the occasional tick on ourselves.

Be smart, remove them correctly, call a doctor if flu-like symptoms develop after finding an embedded tick on yourself or a family member, and continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors.

Steve can be contacted by email at