Column by Marty Giles

I counted three that morning, on my pants and where I’d been sitting — three that morning after finding one a couple of months earlier. Ticks!

This year has been quite unusual for me: Those four ticks constitute 80 percent of all the ticks that have caught me on the Oregon Coast in nearly 40 years.

 Oregon is home to more than a dozen species of “hard ticks” and a few species of “soft ticks.” Hard ticks are the tiny, watermelon-seed-shaped arthropods (jointed animals) we find creeping up our socks or engorged on our pets or game. While hard ticks lurk in tall grasses and on low shrubs, soft ticks are more likely to hang out in animal dens and bedding and are therefore encountered less often by people. Both groups of ticks are actually relatives of spiders, not insects.

 Hard ticks have three life stages: larva, nymph, and adult. Oddly, ticks have six legs as larva, but have eight legs as nymphs and adults.

 At each stage, the hard tick attempts to snag a vertebrate host. Catching hold of a host, the tick typically hangs on until the host is at rest, then crawls to a suitable location — on people, a warm, moist place, often at a limb joint, a hairline, or at the edge of clothing. Attached firmly by harpoon-like mouthparts and glue, the feeding tick will engorge with up to 600 times its unfed weight in blood.

 Hard ticks feed on a blood meal only once at each stage, then drop off and can remain passive in leaf-litter or vegetation for several months between stages. In cold climates, it may take as long as three years for a tick to go through all three stages.

 As with mosquitoes, ticks need a blood meal to develop eggs. A female hard tick drops to the ground after her last blood meal to lay a single batch of thousands of eggs.

 Ticks tend to be picky. About half of Oregon's tick species are found only on birds, and most of the rest are partial to small mammals. Pinhead-sized, tick larva typically latch onto smaller animals, with the nymph and adult of the same species usually going for larger animals.

 Only four Oregon ticks are commonly found on people: the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus), sometimes also called a deer tick; Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni); American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis); and the Pacific Coast tick (Dermacentor occidentalis).

 Ticks carry more diseases than any other arthropod. Although fewer than 5 percent of ticks carry Lyme disease, the severity of this debilitating illness makes it worth the effort to avoid tick bites.

 Wearing long sleeves and tucking your pant legs into your shoes will give hungry ticks less opportunity to bite. If you use tick repellent on yourself or your pets, read directions carefully, applying as directed (on clothing or skin) as often as directed.

 Since ticks don't pass on the pathogens they carry until they've been feeding for a day or so, removing a tick as soon as possible will decrease your chances of contracting a tick-borne disease. People traipsing through tall grass and brush should carefully check for ticks every several hours. Using the buddy system helps, as ticks may hide and attach in out-of-sight places. Wearing light-colored clothing also makes crawling ticks easier to see.

 Imbedded ticks should always be removed by gently pulling it straight out with a pair of tweezers placed as close to the head of the tick as possible. Squeezing the tick with your fingers — or suffocating or burning a tick — can cause contaminated fluids to gush out of the tick and into its host.

 Notify your doctor if you develop a rash, fever, headaches, or flu-like symptoms after a tick bite.

 July is reportedly the high season for tick-borne disease in our state. However, the four ticks I’ve picked up so far this year were in April and June.

 Let hikers and walkers beware.

 For information on how to arrange an exploration of our fascinating natural history for your group or your visiting guests, contact Marty at 541/267-4027, or e-mail Questions and comments about local natural history are welcome.

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