Don’t Let Ticks Tick You Off

By Dan Zarlenga, Missouri Department of Conservation

Autumn is a great time to relish the outdoors in Missouri and discover nature. The Show-Me-State has so many great camping spots, hiking trails, fishing holes and float streams. And they’re perfect for enjoying as the weather cools and leaves begin to ignite with color. But there are still some pesky little critters out there to be on the lookout for.


Yes, ticks are still around and can be encountered well into the fall. It seems like these critters can survive just anything, heat, cold, drought, or starving. Ticks are especially common in areas with tall grasses, but can be found in woods too, or pretty much any weedy or brushy place.

Everybody knows they feed on blood from their hosts. Ticks use a strategy called “questing”. They wait on a blade of grass as they hold on with their hind legs and extend their front hook-like legs, which have special sensors. Ticks can detect exhaled carbon dioxide and body odors, as well as vibrations and changes in light, which can alert them to an approaching victim.

In this position, they stand and wait for an unsuspecting host to brush by, which might be a deer, a dog, or even you. When that happens, they latch on!

These parasites can carry serious, occasionally deadly diseases, so if one does bite you it’s important to remove it as soon as you can. After every outing, give yourself a thorough check over. If you find a tick dug in, use a pair of tweezers to grasp it as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it out. Then disinfect the area of the bite. Fortunately, it takes some time for the tick to exchange any potential toxins, so that does give you a chance to act. And simply taking a soapy shower as soon as you can might help remove ticks before they can bite.

Of course, prevention is always best. Even if the temperatures are warm, don’t be tempted to wear shorts or sandals when walking through tick habitat. Long pants, shoes and socks provide an extra barrier against them. Light colored materials make ticks easier to spot and scrape off. Some people even tuck their pants into their socks or wrap open cuffs with duct tape to prevent the sneaky critters from getting to their skin. It also helps to stay on the trail and avoid brushy areas.

Spraying insect repellants such as DEET or Picaridin on skin and clothing can repel ticks. Pre-treating clothing with Permethrin can also be effective, but this substance is not for use directly on the skin.

In any case, being out in nature is always enjoyable, even if dealing with ticks is not. But with a few sensible steps you can avoid being the next meal for these pesky little parasites. Visit mdc.mo.gov.