Ticks active after months of heavy rains

(L to R) Rocky Mountain wood tick: unengorged female, 1/4 engorged, 1/2 engorged and fully engorged

With the increase in moisture from the past weeks’ rains, the tall grasses have become a perfect breeding ground for ticks to attach onto a host. Ian Foley, Entomologist with the MT Department of Agriculture said that now is the time ticks are most active, as the rains have caused the grasses to grow, and the melting of snow has increased outdoor activity in the grasslands and forests. "Where people encounter them is in tall vegetation. Walking and hiking through tall grass can attract the ticks, which brush up on a person's clothes as they look host to get blood meal," Foley explained.

Community members of C a r b o n C o u n t y h a v e already reported tick behavior in backyards and hiking trails. Hiker Rumeysa Venus explained that she and a friend were hiking up East Rosebud June 3 and noticed ticks kept attaching themselves to their pants. “Over the course of the hike we removed at least 20 ticks off our clothes and body. Mostly they were attached to my clothes, but a few worked their way inside. Eventually it was so bad, we just had to turn back." After the hike, Venus thoroughly inspected the rest of her body to see if any ticks had crawled somewhere her clothes did not cover and found some in her hair.

To help avoid getting bitten, Foley recommends outdoor person’s use an insect repellent with DEET, wear long pants, long sleeves and tuck their pants into their socks to prevent the ticks from crawling up the inside of their leg. Although not an insect, ticks are closely related to spiders, whose bite can carry a variety of diseases including Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) and Lyme disease. However, Foley stated that the genuses of ticks found in MT are not vectors of Lyme disease. "The most common tick found in Montana is the Rocky Mountain wood tick, which is closely related to the American dog tick, but is reddish brown and they have a shield that's a white pattern," Foley said.

Foley advises those who have found a tick to remove with sharp tweezers. If the bite is engorged, has turned a white color and looks larger than a small tick, one should remove the tick and put it in the freezer in alcohol to have the tick identified by a medical professional. "95% of ticks identified are Rocky Mountain wood tick," Foley said. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention include typical symptoms of RMSF include "...fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days, and in some patients, never develops." Until the weather becomes drier and less humid, outdoorsmen should be cautious of ticks.