I need to fess up. I have lived in Northern Wisconsin for 23 years, and I have never had a tick embedded into my skin. Never, which is freakishly rare for someone who lives where I live. Kriner and I can take a walk together and he will have 37 ticks crawling on him but somehow, I come off clean. I once read they are attracted to heat and my body temp runs low, so I assume they go after my hot-blooded man.
Ticks are gross, disgusting, and at times dangerous, but I’m not going to talk about Deer Ticks. They’re the ones that carry Lyme disease, and yeah, it’s singular; this is something you learn when all of your friends, co-workers, acquaintances, students, former students and enemies get Lyme disease. They will correct you and you know what? They get to, because they had Lyme disease.
“It’s not Lyme’s, it’s just Lyme.”
“I’m so sorry that you know that.”
That would be a downer to talk about and I want to keep these blog entries fun, so, I’m just going to talk about the ticks that are disgusting rather than dangerous. Those would be the Wood Ticks. (*Note, if you are squeamish about ticks, or bugs in general, please stop reading now. It’s going to get really, really gross fairly quickly. Also, I am sure my paramedic friends would point out you can catch bad stuff from Wood Ticks too…)
If you have never seen a Wood Tick (and I doubt there is anyone in an English-speaking country who has never seen one, since they are so common that I frequently see them pushing grocery carts at the local IGA and driving cars up and down main street) they are flat, tear-dropped shaped, brown insects with 8 legs and 2 big pincers coming out of their head. They are as thin as a thumbnail, that is, until they find a host.
The tick has the “awesome” ability to squirt a numbing chemical into your skin before it starts sucking you dry, so you really don’t feel it once it is in you. You may feel them crawling on your leg or arm, but if you don’t catch them early, they will find a nice, warm, quiet spot on your body (think gated community in Florida) before they proceed to dig in. They will stay there until they’re found or until they have satiated themselves and drop off, which can be a very long time. (Have you checked the back of your neck while reading this? I have.)
If you’re a dog owner in the northern part of Wisconsin, you are well-versed in ticks. Dogs aren’t able to find and remove ticks as affectively as humans (you know, opposable thumbs and all) and most humans don’t find them on their dogs until they can feel them under fur, which means the tick has gotten bigger and more bloated. You pray at this point your dog doesn’t bite them off and yes, I too just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Most dog-owners have their own special rituals for dealing with the ticks they find on their beloved animals. We’ve all heard of the scotch tape trick, and if you haven’t, it’s time to leave the city. Other tricks are the “toilet dump”, the “fingernail squish” (very difficult to execute but most impressive and final) and of course, the “burn.” However, perhaps the most intriguing yet repulsive tick containment/elimination technique is the “tick jar.” That’s right; sometimes there are so many ticks on a dog, that you need a jar when you check your animal. And here’s the best part, sometimes people don’t get rid of the ticks right away; they keep them in the jar for fun.
This great little craft can be enjoyed by the entire family. It’s easy, fun and educational! Here’s how you do it. You will need a jar or can, some cooking spray, and lots and lots of ticks. When attempting to make your own tick jar, it’s important to spray the aerosol cooking spray on the inside of the jar, preferably one without ridges. You want to make it impossible for the ticks to climb out. Since the top of the jar is open, you get to see the ticks, in all of their disgusting glory, in a not-so-natural habitat. You may think this is horrid and gross and only a select few humans would opt for this method, and you’d be right.
Among some of my friends, there seems to be a competition to see who can have the most lively tick jar. When I first moved here, Brian Grube had a tick jar he never emptied and we all found it fascinating, albeit disgusting. To this day I have never seen a tick jar that even comes close to his, but to be fair, he had 4 hairy dogs in one house.
I feel at this point, I should spend a little time describing the occupants of the jar, because based on diet, these ticks can range greatly in appearance.
On the bottom of the food chain are the newer, or “probationary” ticks. They are small, lively and thin. When a dog’s owner finds them, these ticks are most likely only crawling on the dog, and not yet embedded.
Then you have the “less than a day” suckers; they still look like ticks, but they are thicker, maybe the depth of a quarter. They are “all that” in the tick world, because they have just recently fed. That’s really what it comes down to with ticks. If they’re hungry, they’re nothing, but if they’re fed, the world is their oyster, so to speak.
Now we get into the “John Gotti” tick. They have sucked blood for days, and have lived the good life at the expense of others. They have lived under the radar, and in spite of petting, scratching and brushing your dog, they have remained unfound. They’re sneaky and smart. If they got pulled over, I’m sure they would tell the officer that the blood just “fell off a truck.” These ticks look like little balls; they have so much blood in them you would think they would start to roll downhill, but they are still brown in color and still look like ticks, much like Violet Beauregarde when she got all plumped up on blueberries. They have trouble moving around in the tick jar. They’re pretty damn gross.
(SPOILER ALERT – Now we move into the “no longer look like a tick but still a tick” arena. We are moving into the really, really disgusting aspect of ticks. Feel free to drop out here.)
Unless you live where I live and have animals, you will not have experienced the “Grape tick” and you should be grateful for it. A funny thing happens to ticks that feed for more than four days. They get big, much like a grape, and they no longer look like a tick. They turn into a sick, gray-purple color and their legs seem to disappear, under their bloated bellies. They look like a raisin that has plumped itself back up by soaking in bleach.
Here’s what happens when you drop one of those vile, revolting plumped up, over-fed ticks into the tick jar. Remember the hungry newbie ticks? They are so hungry and little, and the grape ticks are so big and slow, that the newbie ticks attach themselves to grey grape ticks’ bellies. So in the ultimate act of parasitic disgusting “ish”, we see ticks sucking on other ticks. It’s like eating by proxy.
So, during this very special time of year, let this serve as a reminder to be sure to tuck your jeans into your socks, wear a hat, check yourself at night, get out the Frontline for your pets, and be careful when you scratch under your dog’s collar. You never know what you’re going to find.