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Tick Populations to Explode in 2013 …

For a number of reasons, tick populations in many areas of the country will likely explode this year, according to several parasitologists, so veterinarians should be vigilant about discussing preventives with clients.

“There has been an increase in tick populations over decades, but in the last 10 years, they have really exploded,” explained Susan E. Little, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVM, Regents professor and Krull-Ewing chair in veterinary parasitology at Oklahoma State University. “And it is not just more ticks, it is more ticks in more places.”

There are many reasons that ticks and the diseases they carry spread:

  • Warmer winters;
  • Suburbanization, which brings together people, wildlife and ticks;
  • An increase in white-tailed deer;
  • Migratory birds that carry ticks to new areas;
  • A movement toward the preservation of open space and the replanting of trees; and
  • The use of fewer insecticides.

Winters in the United States have been milder than they were 20 or more years ago, when long periods of harsh weather used to kill off many ticks, explains Michael W. Dryden, DVM, Ph.D., university distinguished professor in veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University.

“Without the deep, hard, cold winters, we don't have the winter kill, and several ticks that were abundant in the South have moved North,” Dryden says. “It has to be really cold to kill a tick, at least 10 degrees F, and it has to stay that temperature for some time. All it takes is temperatures of around 40 degrees F for ticks to be active. If it just drops overnight and then warms back up, that doesn't help.”

Even areas that had a good deal of snow this year will not necessarily see a tick die-off, because the snow serves as a blanket.

“If they are under a snow blanket, it doesn't do much harm to them at all,” Dryden says.

Some ticks just aren't that bothered by cold weather, Little adds. “Ixodes scapularis, the black-legged tick, thrives in the winter months. The adult tick is out from October to February, although nymphs may not come out until May,” she says.

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