by Samantha Cunningham
Ticks are a member of the arachnid family, like scorpions and spiders. They move through crawling movements only, and survive through feeding on whatever blood-flowing creatures are available, humans included.
Ticks in Canada
There are around 40 species of ticks in Canada which range in size from a pinhead to a dime. Ticks are present across Canada, living in wooded areas, tall grasses, and under leaf litter. Ticks can be present in urbanized green spaces as well as rural ones and everything in between. They become active at 4⁰C and above, year-round, and their full life-cycle can last up to three years.
Some tick species pose health risks. The main species that can transmit Lyme disease are the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), also called the deer tick, which is found across Canada, and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) which is specific to British Columbia. However, there are other tick species that can also transmit diseases.
To transmit Lyme disease to humans, the tick usually is attached for a minimum of 24 hours.
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by B. burgdorferi bacteria transmitted from infected ticks to humans or animals. Symptoms typically appear 3 – 30+ days after the initial bite has occurred. For Lyme disease risks, symptoms, treatments, and more, check out the Government of Canada’s website. If you have been in an area known for Lyme disease and were bit or have started experiencing symptoms, go see a healthcare provider right away. Tell them where you were when you got exposed, and if applicable how long the tick was attached to you. The earlier Lyme disease is treated, the better as antibiotics given in early stages have proved more successful.
How to Remove and Dispose of the Tick
If you catch a tick attached to you do not panic! Not every tick carries a disease. Do not rip the tick off or burn it or smother it with Vaseline, as these actions will not help. Instead, use clean fine tipped-tweezers as available, or a tick pick (like this one) and firmly grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can get. Gently, pull away from the skin. The goal is to get the entirety of the tick out in one attempt. If this does not happen, attempt to get the remaining tick-bits out of the skin with tweezers.
Once the tick has been removed DO NOT crush the tick between your fingers, as this is incredibly unsanitary and could be unsafe if it is an infected tick. Instead try the “contain and kill” method. For example, put the tick in a container with alcohol and encase it in tape. Before disposing of the tick, take clear, detailed photos showing it from different angles. This will help in identifying it through public databases, or through various online sources like Tick Awareness Canada, CanLyme, or Biological Survey of Canada.
Ticks and Natural Shorelines
The best method to deal with ticks is prevention. With climate change, tick habitat is expanding and changing. Since ticks can tolerate and thrive in such a wide variety of environments, it is unlikely that naturalized shorelines encourage tick habitat any more than a grassy lawn does. This sounds counter-intuitive, but some studies have shown the ability of composition and biodiversity of habitat areas to limit and regulate tick abundance. So in addition to the other benefits of natural shorelines like water filtration, erosion prevention, and providing important aquatic and terrestrial habitat, they also might be able to keep the ticks at bay (or at least not get worse)!
Ticks are inevitable when being outdoors. Here are some tips you can follow to help keep the ticks away:
- Wear closed toed shoes and tall socks. Even better, tuck your pants into the socks and your (long-sleeved) shirt into the pants.
- Use Deet or Icaridin-based bug sprays when spending time in tick habitat.
- Many people treat their outdoor shoes, camping gear, etc. to repel ticks.
- Wear light coloured clothing and gear, which helps keep you cool, attracts fewer mosquitos, and makes it easier to spot any ticks.
More important than what you wear, make sure you have a plan on what you do when you take clothing off. Tick checks are critical to safety after spending time outdoors, no matter the location. Ticks can attach to your skin, clothing, shoes, gear, and most materials. It is good practice to leave as much as you can outside the home in a garage or storage area until you can check it over for tick hitchhikers. Clothing can be placed in the dryer on the highest setting for a minimum of 10 minutes to kill any ticks present. While your clothes take a tumble, consider showering. Taking a shower within 2 hours of coming indoors has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease. It washes off any loose ticks and provides a great opportunity to check out other parts of your body where ticks prefer to hide (elbows, armpits, ears, etc.). Do not forget to check over your dog or pets that also spend time outside! Ticks and Lyme disease are not just a threat to humans.
For other tick-prevention actions, stick to paths or trails both on and off your property, including to the dock or shoreline. You can better protect yourself on these paths by laying down gravel or wood chips, providing a buffer between your path and surrounding vegetation. You can also help by trimming areas along frequented pathways to prevent the risk of you brushing up against branches and brush. Ticks can also hitchhike in firewood brought from outside, so do your best to only bring it inside the house when you are ready to burn it.
Keeping constant vigilance is key to keeping ticks off your skin and out of your house. Prevention is easier than treatment, and when you know better you can do better! Your concerns about ticks do not have to keep you from naturalizing your shoreline or keeping up your current one. Follow the available tick prevention tips, contact our Natural Edge Program for native species planting details, and stay safe while enjoying the outdoors!
- Provincial Lyme disease information and resources: canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/lyme-disease/provincial-territorial-resources.html
- A Detailed Guide to Avoiding Ticks: halifaxtrails.ca/blog/a-detailed-guide-to-avoiding-ticks
- You, Your Pets, and Ticks: ticktalkcanada.com