Now that summer is over, many people may be breathing a sigh of relief that tick season is over. But unfortunately, the end of summer does not mean the end of the tick threat – ticks can still live throughout the fall. It’s important not to let your guard down as the season changes, as this may open you up to an increased risk of being bitten by a tick infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
The fall often leads to a drop in temperature, which may give people a false sense of security since ticks thrive in warmer temperatures. However, in many places, fall temperatures aren’t as low as they need to be for tick populations to die down and become a lesser threat to people living or spending time in wooded areas. So how does fall weather affect tick populations, exactly? And why should you continue to practice safety measures even in the cooler weather? Read on for all you need to know about the prevalence of ticks in fall.
Are ticks a problem in the fall?
Summer is often regarded as the sole tick season, but many experts state that that is a myth. This is because of the way ticks thrive in different temperature conditions. For example, the black-legged tick, one of the several species that can carry Lyme disease, are often out in full swing as the fall weather rolls around because they rely heavily on more humid conditions.
The dry, hot weather that is often seen throughout summer actually hinders ticks’ ability to survive, and many adult black-legged ticks thrive when October hits. If the fall is particularly warm, this type of tick can continue to threaten public health all the way through to December.
The life cycle of ticks
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ticks have four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and finally, adult. No matter what life stage a tick is in, it needs blood to survive. This means that during its entire roughly three-year lifespan, a tick must be feeding. If it does not, it will not make it to the next life cycle.
Ticks begin their life cycle in the spring. When they are eggs, they can only feed on small lizards or rodents. The following year, when they reach the larva stage, ticks can begin feeding on small rodents and animals, as well as larger animals such as deer – and even humans. It is more likely that larva ticks will attach themselves to smaller animals during this stage, which is during the spring and summer months.
When the tick reaches the nymph stage, it generally sticks to bigger hosts such as deer and humans in the spring and summer months. The adult stage typically begins the same fall following the tick’s nymph stage, and when ticks are adults, they also stick to bigger hosts. When the tick reaches adulthood, it continues to feed throughout the fall.
Where do ticks live in the fall?
Ticks live in wooded and brushy areas during all their life stages. In the fall, wooded areas are especially suitable for them; if temperatures become too cold, they can burrow under brush or leaves, and if temperatures are warm enough, they can thrive in tall grass and brush until an unsuspecting host comes by. Because of ticks’ ability to conceal themselves in areas that can help maintain life, they are always ready to awaken and attack if the weather conditions permit.
This means that if you enjoy spending time hiking the great outdoors, or often find yourself walking through high-grass or brush areas, you are more likely to run into a tick this fall. Ticks prefer higher elevations. In the United States, they are mostly found in northern areas such as Maryland, Minnesota, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Can you get Lyme disease in the fall?
Since ticks are out and about in the fall months, you, your loved ones, or even your pets are at risk of being bitten by an infected tick. Typically, it takes about 24 hours for Lyme disease to be transmitted into your blood from an infected tick that has latched onto you; however, the risk of catching Lyme disease increases the moment you’re bitten. That is why it’s important to do tick checks every time you spend time outdoors.
To properly complete a tick check, you must examine your whole body. If you do find a tick, make sure to pull it out completely using tweezers and a slow, steady motion so that no part of the tick gets lodged inside your body.
How to avoid getting bitten by a tick and getting Lyme disease
With Lyme disease being hard to diagnose and treat, and prone to resurfacing after recovery, the best thing you can do is limit your chances of contracting it in the first place. If you plan on spending time in the great outdoors, wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, which is harder for them to latch on to. In areas that may be exposed, such as the ankles, try to tuck your pant legs into your socks or shoes. The less skin available for ticks to get to, the better.
The fall can be an especially dangerous time for ticks, which is why you should never leave your guard down when the weather begins to cool off. Ticks are often still hanging out in high brush and wooded areas, waiting for a new host. Do your best to keep yourself protected this fall and you can lower your risk of contracting Lyme disease.
Featured image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash