One lovely afternoon many years ago, Pete and I were enjoying an outing to the slough at the mouth of the Salinas River, in central California. The trail was somewhat overgrown, and we were pushing through tall weeds looking for birds and other wildlife, when I suddenly realized there was a large, red tick crawling up his shirt.
Knowing that ticks are arachnids (fascinating creatures that nonetheless give me the willies), and having heard about all the diseases they carry, I calmly alerted shrieked at my husband and started flailing at his back. As that tick was dislodged, I noticed another one on his thigh… and another, and another… when I suddenly realized that if he was covered with ticks, then I was probably covered with ticks….
Suddenly we were both jumping around like a couple of hyperactive kangaroos, peeling off our clothing (there were ticks underneath, too), running our fingers through our hair, yelling and screaming, and… let’s be truthful here… I was reduced to a traumatized, quivering, gibbering mess of shattered nerves.
It’s a good thing we were in the middle of nowhere, since we ended up with not much on. In that natural state we hastened back to our car. I was still trembling as we shook out our clothes, inspected each square inch of both skin and fabric, and finally got dressed again. When we drove away, I was sure that we’d removed them all and I could start calming down.
Then I noticed a tick crawling up the fabric over my head… and another one on the inside of the door next to my elbow.
I love the outdoors, but I do not love ticks. Yet, if I’m going to spend much time out enjoying nature, I’m pretty much guaranteed to encounter them from time to time.
Living in Colorado is a blessing in that we don’t have many ticks, especially compared to much of the country. Still, I’ve dealt with them here as well. An early spring camping trip to Bonny Reservoir State Park turned into another tick confrontation; in spite of a thorough inspection, I was still finding new individuals as I unpacked the car at home at the end of the weekend.
Since ticks are a fact of life, we should learn to recognize the ones we’re mostly likely to meet. Different species carry different diseases, and we would do well to memorize the symptoms of those as well.
Colorado State University has an excellent fact sheet on Colorado tick species, their hosts, the parasites they carry, and how to remove a tick if you’ve been bitten. I learned that the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick (left) is the most common tick that bites people here in Colorado. I was particularly relieved to discover that, to date, there are no documented cases of people contracting Lyme Disease in Colorado, even though it’s a serious problem in much of the U.S.
I am even happier that, at least for the 18+ years we’ve lived in our current house, we’ve never encountered a single tick in our five acres of trees and field. That’s one part of nature I’m delighted to live without.
Tick photo: Mat Pound, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org.