Crop scouting and…ticks?
Suggestions for avoiding ticks when scouting crops in Michigan.
June is the typical time in Michigan to check field emergence and early season pest problems. As you start visiting fields, keep ticks in the back of your mind, especially if you live in the western half of the Lower Peninsula. It seems strange to worry about ticks while farming, but they came up at a recent Michigan State University Extension integrated pest management (IPM) breakfast meeting, where I and several attendees traded stories about finding ticks crawling on us after field scouting.
In Michigan, the three most common tick species are the dog and lone star ticks, both of which have white markings, and the smaller blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick. All spread some type of disease organism, but the most well-known is Lyme disease transmitted by the blacklegged tick. To find a host, ticks use a behavior called “questing,” which involves climbing up vegetation and extending their front legs. They patiently wait for an animal or person to brush up against them, then stealthily latch on to fur, hair or clothing.
The margins of many fields in southern and central Michigan are perfect habitat for questing ticks, with well-drained soil, tall grassy and shrubby vegetation, bordered by tree lines or woodlots. To get to a field, you often must cross a ditch, tree line or other grassy border that is potentially infested. Furthermore, the range of the blacklegged tick is expanding in Michigan, which means you may encounter this pest in places you haven’t before. As its range expands, Michigan has seen an increase in Lyme disease cases.
So what should you do when scouting fields, especially in southwest Michigan or in places where you’ve encountered ticks before?
- When entering a field, find a field entrance instead of crossing a ditch or tree line. Keep field entrances clear of vegetation or pull further forward into the field, so that when you get out of the vehicle you don’t have to walk through tall grass or weeds.
- Treat your pants, socks and boots with a tick repellent that contains permethrin (Permanone or other brands). Permethrin is applied to gear and clothing, never to bare skin. You can find it in the camping aisle of sports or outdoor stores, and even Meijer at this time of year. The treatment lasts a few weeks on clothing, repelling or even killing ticks. Wash treated clothing with work clothes, not with the regular family laundry. Note that mosquito repellents like DEET and picaridin do not do a good job on ticks.
- Do a tick check at the end of the day. Tick nymphs, especially blacklegged nymphs, are small and easy to miss, but it’s worth the effort. Removal within 24 hours of attachment greatly reduces the chance of Lyme disease transmission. If you do find a tick on your body, carefully remove it. If you have an interest in identifying it later, pickle it in a small jar of rubbing alcohol or vinegar.
- Finally, see a physician if you have symptoms of Lyme or other tick-borne disease, such as a red bulls-eye rash, joint pain or fever. The faster Lyme disease is identified and treated, the better the outcome.
See the Michigan Emerging Diseases – Lyme Disease website for more information on ticks, tick removal, Lyme disease and risk reduction.
Dr. DiFonzo’s work is funded in part by MSU’s AgBioResearch.