Many animals eat ticks and also carry them around on their bodies.
Ticks bite their human and animal hosts and feed on their blood to nourish themselves.
Ticks transmit infectious diseases like Lyme disease and many more.
The black-legged (deer) tick transmits many of the tick-borne diseases found in the United States.
Ticks and the diseases they transmit are now found in every state in the nation.
Several animals eat ticks but don’t carry tick-borne illness. For example, opossums, guinea fowl, chickens, wild turkeys, frogs, toads, and lizards.
Human-made tick boxes, tick tubes, and even a tick-killing robot are used to eliminate ticks from the environment.
With certain tactics, you can dramatically limit exposure to the blood-sucking ticks in your yard without spraying toxic chemicals.
Diseases Transmitted by Ticks
Many animals eat ticks. However, many of these are also responsible for carrying ticks around. Deer, mice, small rodents, squirrels, and even our beloved companion animals—cats and dogs—can carry and spread ticks.
Ticks bite their human and animal hosts and feed on the blood to nourish themselves. But the biggest threat from ticks comes from their ability to carry and transmit infectious diseases. Notably, the pathogenic bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is responsible for Lyme disease.
Bites from infected ticks can cause other pathogens and coinfections as well. Unfortunately, these diseases are not going away. And, as better testing methods are developed, we will likely identify even more cases.
The black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), commonly known as the deer tick, causes many of the tick-borne diseases in the United States. And while people associate ticks with the transmission of Lyme disease, they transmit many other pathogens. Some of the tick-borne illnesses include the following: (1, 2, 3)
Anaplasmosis is transmitted by the black-legged tick and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.
Babesiosis is an illness that can develop when the insects transmit microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Most cases of babesiosis in the nation are caused by Babesia microti, which is transmitted by the black-legged tick.
Borrelia mayonii infection has been found in black-legged ticks. Borrelia mayonii is a newly identified species, and like Borrelia burgdoferi, can cause Lyme disease.
Bourbon virusis a tick-borne infection that has been identified in a limited number of individuals in the United States.
Colorado tick fever is an illness caused by a virus transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick.
Ehrlichiosis is a viral illness transmitted to humans by the lone star tick.
Heartland virus is thought to be transmitted by lone star ticks.
Lyme disease is transmitted by bites from the black-legged tick and the western black-legged tick.
Powassan disease is transmitted to humans by the black-legged tick and the groundhog tick.
Rickettsia parkeririckettsiosis is transmitted by the Gulf Coast tick.
Rickettsia species 364Dis transmitted by the bite of a Pacific Coast tick.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is often transmitted by American dog ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, and brown dog ticks.
Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) is transmitted to humans via bites from the lone star tick.
Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) is transmitted through the bite of infected soft ticks.
Tick paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin released from a tick’s saliva while it is attached to its human host. Over 40 species of these insects have been implicated in tick paralysis. Most cases seen in North America are associated with the American dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick.
Tularemia is transmitted to human beings by the dog tick, the wood tick, and the lone star tick.
The Tick Life Cycle
When ticks attach, they bury their heads in the skin to bite and start sucking blood from their hosts. The nourishing blood enables them to move through their various phases of development, from larvae to adulthood. This is how a tick's life cycle works: (4)
Tick larvae require blood nourishment to develop into young ticks, called nymphs
Nymphs need to ingest blood to mature into adulthood
Adult females need blood nourishment to mate and lay eggs by the thousands that develop into a new generation of larvae
During the nymph and adult stages, ticks can crawl onto a host’s body, attach themselves, and start to feed on the blood. If the pest happens to be carrying an infectious agent, like Lyme disease or one of its many coinfections, the pathogens will enter the host’s circulatory system and begin to reproduce.
Understandably, you want to know how to repel ticks and protect yourself and your family. Dressing in protective clothing head-to-toe is one way to help prevent a tick bite. Still, they are stealthy little critters who can and keep pursuing a meal on a susceptible host.
So if you want to prevail in the tick war, a multi-pronged attack may be best. Some potential allies can help you in your tussle with these pesky and potentially harmful insects. Plus, a few approaches—both new and time-tested—can help you get ticks away from your kids and pets, out of your environment, and off your lawn.
Nature's Tick Killers
A few common animals actually eat ticks. Given the spread of Lyme disease and other dangerous infectious agents, these animals are extremely beneficial. So you may want to think twice about driving them out of your yard.
Deer ticks were once found primarily in wooded areas of the northern states. But the bloodsuckers and the diseases they transmit are now found in every state in the nation. If you want to protect your yard, your pets, and your family from ticks, some of nature’s creatures can help you combat potentially dangerous pests.
You may have seen opossums while driving at night. They are nocturnal animals, so that explains why you see them most often on the road at night. (5)
Opossums frequently consume insects and mice. That makes them ideal for pest control—particularly ticks. In fact, one opossum can consume up to 5,000 ticks in a single season.
While the opossums are foraging for food, ticks will attach to them, just as they do with any other animal. However, opossums, despite their somewhat ragged looks, are very clean animals. Opossums groom themselves routinely and fastidiously. In the process, they often find and eat ticks that have attached themselves.
However, opossums don’t contract or carry Lyme disease and other tick-borne pathogens. This is true of rabies as well—opossums are naturally immune to it. (6)
While these animals might be ugly, they are beneficial to keep around, as more opossums mean fewer ticks and less chance of contracting Lyme disease or other tick-borne infections. So if you see them out and about, kindly leave them alone to get on with their pest control duties.
The guinea fowl is a bird species in the same family as the peacock. They are not commonly kept as pets but can be seen on large yards and farms. If allowed to roam on your property, guineas will eat any insect in their path. Guinea fowls prefer bugs that they can spot on the ground or on leaves. Deer ticks are one of their favorite meals, and they are adept at eating them. They also clean up and remove pests by devouring weed seeds and snakes.
Guinea fowls can be noisy, however. They can be quite loud as they roam their territory in packs. Guineas are best suited to farms and large parcels of land that are zoned for poultry. (7)
Owning chickens has become popular, and for good reasons. They can be beneficial pets since they provide eggs for breakfast every few days. It can also be rewarding for animal lovers to raise a chick into a full-grown chicken. Chickens are relatively simple to raise—build them a coop and throw them your kitchen scraps since they eat nearly everything. Chickens also like to roam around and hoover up any bugs they can catch, including disease-spreading ticks. (8)
Chickens aren’t as effective at tick control as guinea fowl because they don’t roam the distances that packs of guineas do. And you’ll want to consider limiting chickens to areas free of gardens and landscaping, as they like to scratch the ground. They are also easier for predators like coyotes, foxes, and hawks to prey upon, as they don’t move quickly or fly as well as guinea fowl. The area where you keep chickens must be zoned for poultry.
Wild turkeys can do significant damage to small, crawling insects. Wild turkeys are known to eat deer ticks, but probably not to the extent that they can be used to control a local population. A flock of wild turkeys that visits an area regularly can reduce the number of ticks, but they don’t necessarily seek them out. Plus, most of their diet comes from plant matter, even in the summer. (8)
Frogs, Lizards, and Toads
Frogs, lizards, and toads also prey on and ingest ticks. However, unless you have a stream or waterway habitat nearby, there may not be much you can do to increase local populations of these amphibians and reptiles. (9)
Man-Made Tick Killers
Although some man-made ticks killers are clever and effective, they often depend upon chemical insecticides that target the hosts or the ticks themselves. Still, some are worth mentioning, as they don’t spread toxic chemicals liberally over an environment and ecosystem, killing beneficial organisms in their paths.
Tick boxes were developed to control ticks, reducing the risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. These boxes treat small rodents, the primary hosts of many tick-borne diseases, with a small dose of insecticide. These boxes bait the rodents, then apply the insecticide.
The ticks are killed during the larval and nymph stages when they typically contract Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria
(Lyme disease) and other tick-borne diseases. According to their manufacturer, these boxes are child-resistant, EPA approved, and will not harm rodents and wildlife. (10)
Tick tubes consists of a cardboard tube stuffed with cotton treated with a tick-killing chemical. Mice and rodents collect the cotton and take it back to line their nests. The tick-killing agent binds to oils on their fur, killing the insects that try to attach without harming the rodents.
These systems have led to statistically significant drops in tick levels after several years of use. Plus, they cost about $4 per tube, which is much cheaper than tick bait boxes. (11)
In true modern-day technological style, scientists are working to eliminate ticks with killer robots. Researchers have been collecting field data on the effectiveness of a four-wheeled tick-control robot, called TickBot. The robot is fitted with a cloth treated with tick-killing chemicals and is programmed to prowl an infested natural environment. (12)
TickBot proved to be highly effective in reducing overall tick densities to nearly zero. After one hour of travel through the treatment areas, numbers of tick adults were reduced to zero and remained at or near zero for 24 hours. For humans and companion animals visiting tick-laden natural environments, TickBot may be used to significantly reduce the risk of bites and the transmission of tick-borne illnesses. Continued use of TickBot could assure a reasonably tick-safe environment for public enjoyment. (13)
Disease-carrying tick infestations have been on the rise the last few years. Ticks are reasonably easy to pick up, even on a mowed lawn. However, with a little bit of effort, you can dramatically limit exposure to the bloodsuckers in your yard. Here are some recommendations to tick-proof your yard without spraying. (14, 15)
Mow Your Grass Frequently and Keep It Short
Black-legged ticks are not fond of dry, hot environments. When the grass is taller, it casts a shadow and creates shade. The pests flock to these cooler areas of tall grass. Let your lawn reach about 4 to 4½ inches, then trim it down to about 3 inches with each mowing. The trick is to stay on top of it and not let the grass grow to a height of 5 or 6 inches. If you miss a mowing and the grass gets tall, you are well-advised to use the bagging attachment with your lawnmower or tractor, as piles of lawn clippings can create the ideal environment for ticks.
Eliminate Tick Habitats
Bagging grass clippings, plus blowing or raking leaves into piles for collection, can help cut back on tick-friendly places and keep your yard clear. If possible, recycle leaves and grass clippings through your town. Or place them in a compost pile far away from the house.
Trim Tall Grasses and Weeds
Ticks can climb to the top of tall grass blades to look for opportunities to grab onto animals like deer or humans. Keep grass and weeds under control with a string trimmer. This will make it more challenging for the bloodsuckers to latch on to you, your family members, or your pets.
Construct a Mulch Moat
Many ticks prefer the dense cover of woodlands over an open lawn. So wooded areas next to your property are potential hotbeds for the insects. To deter them from coming onto your lawn, you can make a 3-foot-wide protective barrier of mulch around the perimeter of your yard. Use mulch made from broad, dry bark or wood chips—not the damp, shredded variety, which can create a cool, damp environment that ticks love.
The mulch moat creates a physical barrier that’s dry and sometimes hot, which ticks find uncomfortable. It also serves as a visual reminder to your family members to be especially careful of ticks if they choose to step past the perimeter.
Consider a Multifaceted Approach
You can make your yard less inviting to ticks with a little bit of extra effort. However, to make a substantial dent in the population on your property, you will likely need to focus on methods that kill them. Spraying an entire yard with pesticide is an approach that experts say is both ineffective and potentially dangerous.Experts recommend products that treat the fur of mice or deer hosts with small quantities of tick-killing agents. (15)
You Got a Tick Bite—What to Do Next
Despite everything you do to keep ticks away, there's always the potential for a tick bite. If you or a family member is bitten, you should take quick action. Follow these recommended steps:
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