Backyard Biology

Nature stories from my backyard and beyond

Nature Activities

Controlling Deer Ticks

Saturday, January 7, 2012

In the early 1970’s, any one paying attention would have been aware that there was a new type of tick on the scene and it could spread a disease to humans. Of course, the only people paying attention to this were a few doctors and scientists. Today, most people along the northeast coast are very familiar with the deer tick and the Lyme disease it can spread. In fact, for many people in rural and suburban areas, every trip into their back yard comes with the risk of picking up a tick and contracting Lyme disease.

Deer ticks have a two year life cycle.


Spring year 1 - Eggs are laid.

Summer year 1 - The larval ticks feed on a mouse or other small animal. If the animal they have fed on has been previously infected with the Lyme bacteria, the larva now becomes infected.

Fall year 1 - Larvae molt into nymph which remain dormant until the spring of year 2.

Spring and Summer year 2 - Nymphs feed on mouse or other small animal. Also may feed on humans. If nymph has been infected with Lyme bacteria when fed as a larva, then it can pass on the Lyme bacteria to it’s host. This is the stage that usually infects humans.

Fall year 2 - Nymph molts into adult. Adults gather on deer or other large animal to mate. Female also feeds at this time. If infected, the adult female may pass on the lyme disease bacteria when she feeds, but the adult tick is much larger than the nymph and more likely to be noticed by a human and removed before infection occurs, so is not as likely to cause Lyme disease as the Nymph.

 

life cycle

 

As the population of deer grows, so grows the number of deer ticks and the spread of Lyme disease. So what is one to do? One option is to soak your clothes in Permanone. Permanone is a permethrin product that kills ticks on contact. The way it works is you spray a set of clothes in Permanone and let it dry for a couple of hours. At this point the clothes are safe for you to wear, but not safe for a tick. If you follow the directions on the Permanone bottle correctly, the permanone should be effective for about 6 weeks.

Another option is to place Damminix Tick Tubes around your property. Damminix Tick Tubes are cardboard tubes that contain cotton that has been sprayed with Permanone. If you place the tubes where mice frequent - around the foundation of your house, woodpiles, rock walls - the mice will gather the cotton to line their nest with. The Permanone on the cotton doesn’t affect the mice but will kill any ticks on the mice.
This is a great way to attack the ticks where they live. The only problem with this scheme is it is expensive. As I write this in 2012, 6 tubes to cover 1/2 acre cost 22.95. For a larger area of 2 acres with 24 tubes, the cost is 74.95. Considering that you might want to place the tubes around your yard twice a year for a number of years for the best effect, Damminix Tick Tubes can get quite expensive.
Since the Damminix Tick Tubes consist of a tube, cotton and Permanone, I figured it would be pretty easy to make my own tick tubes at a fraction of the cost. After only one year of having placed my homemade tick tubes in my back yard, I have noticed a sharp decrease in the number of ticks I am encountering. Of course, I have not done a scientific study of the effectiveness of my Tick Tubes, but I am willing to continue to offer the mice Permanone soaked cotton as long as my tick numbers seem to be down.

Materials:permanone

  • 2” PVC pipe
  • cotton balls
  • Permanone

Instructions:

Important! Follow all of the instructions on the Permanone package.

  1. Cut a 6 inch length of PVC pipe. Cut enough pieces of pipe to place a tick tube every 10 feet or so along a rock wall or foundation.

  2. Lay out the cotton balls on a piece of newspaper

  3. Spray the cotton balls until they are soaked through

  4. Let the cotton balls dry for at least two hours.

  5. Place 4 cotton balls in each tube and place them along the rockwall or foundation.tick tubes 1

 

Extension:

  1. Cover half of your tubes with wood. Are the mice more likely to take the cotton from these sheltered tubes than tubes that are out in the open?tick tubes 2

  2. Set up your tick tubes 4 times a year - once in the spring, summer, fall and winter. Are the mice more likely to collect the cotton in any one particular season?