Ticks, for as small as they are, strike a disproportionate amount of fear and disgust into our hearts and minds (no matter what good they might do!), Perhaps it’s their arachnid nature. Maybe it’s the fact that they burrow their creepy mouthparts into your body and feast off of your blood. Oh yeah, and there’s Lyme Disease and the ever-increasing red meat allergies. Whatever the reason, one thing’s for certain— nothing quite warps our conceptions of reality like fear.
For example, there’s a common misconception that ticks fall from trees and drop onto unsuspecting victims. Let’s explore the truth behind this myth and shed light on how ticks actually go about finding their hosts.
Understanding Tick Behavior
Ticks are opportunistic creatures that thrive in grassy, wooded, or shrubby areas. They seek out hosts to feed on, but contrary to popular belief, they don’t dive-bomb from the treetops. Instead, ticks employ a fascinating behavior called “questing” to secure a blood meal. In a way, ticks are just Vampire Hobbits and you’re…Mordor I guess? Analogies aren’t my strong suit.
When a tick is ready to feed, it climbs up the stems of plants and extends its legs outward, waving them slowly like that one guy in the second row at Church or that lady named Cassie or something at a Journey concert. There they wait, patiently, for a potential host to come into contact. This host can be a human, a pet, or a wild animal passing by. The tick relies on its sensory organs to detect vibrations, heat, and the carbon dioxide emitted by the host.
Rather than actively jumping or dropping, ticks remain perched on vegetation, usually close to the ground. They rely on their keen senses to alert them to the presence of a potential host nearby. When the host brushes against the tick’s outstretched legs, it promptly latches onto the unwitting passerby and begins its feeding process.
What’s important to understand is that ticks are not actively targeting you. They’re not actively targeting anything specifically. Just a warm body full of blood. If anything, you are their worst nightmare (if they had such a thing). Perhaps that’s something you have in common—an olive branch of mutual trepidation.
For a tick, attaching to you means almost certain death. You may have entered their habitat, but you’ll soon leave. This means that when they’re done feeding, assuming they’ve lasted that long, they’ll likely fall off onto your carpet or tile floor, neither of which are a suitable or moist enough setting for them to continue their life cycle and they will likely die. Odds are, you find them before they’ve become a miniature blood sausage, in which case, they’re also going to die. Either way, it’s sucks to suck on a human.
Tick Prevention Measures
Understanding how ticks quest for hosts can help us take proactive measures to protect ourselves. If you’re venturing into tick-prone areas, here are some precautions you can take to minimize the risk of tick bites and tick-borne diseases:
- Wear protective clothing: Covering exposed skin by wearing long sleeves, long pants, and closed-toe shoes can act as a physical barrier, making it harder for ticks to reach your skin.
- Use insect repellents: Apply EPA-approved insect repellents to exposed skin and clothing. Look for products containing DEET, picaridin, or permethrin, which have been proven effective against ticks.
- Perform regular tick checks: After spending time in tick-infested areas, thoroughly inspect your body and clothing for any ticks. Pay attention to areas such as the scalp, behind the ears, underarms, the thickets of your leg hair, and unfortunately yes even the groin. Essentially, wherever you have a crevice, you best go spelunking.
So, despite whatever warning someone may have commented on a Facebook post in that outdoors group you joined and now regret doing so, ticks do not fall from trees like covert paratroopers. Instead, they quest, and then they wait for some unsuspecting passerby to latch onto with their velcro-like hands. By dispelling the myth of ticks falling from trees, we can better understand their behavior and take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves when venturing into tick-prone areas (ie, anywhere in Minnesota). Remember to wear appropriate clothing, use insect repellents, and perform regular tick checks to minimize the risk of tick bites and tick-borne diseases.
Stay informed, stay vigilant, and stay tick-free!
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The Wild Life was created in January of 2017 by, me, Devon Bowker (He/They) after finishing my degree in wildlife biology. It’s been amazing to see how things have changed over the past 5 years, both personally and here. I have tons of ideas and projects in the works and cannot wait to share them with you. Whether you’re a long-time follower or new to The Wild Life, thank you for being here.