Keeping Yourself and Others Safe from Ticks

As we begin to look ahead to spring, it’s time to prepare for the oncoming flurry of life and activity on our farms. Along with the warmer weather, longer days, and increased wildlife activity comes the return of ticks. 

In New York State, ticks pose a significant threat to human health through their ability to transmit disease and parasites via bites. As our climate changes, the habitat range and presence of ticks continue to increase each year. Due to their ability to infect humans, it is important to know the best ways to minimize contact and interactions with ticks.  

Below are some resources and information from New York State Integrated Pest Management on how best to protect yourself from the potential threats ticks pose. 


Identification and Information 

Ticks are arachnids, closely related to spiders and mites, and are parasitic, meaning they live on and obtain nutrients from a host organism. Ticks achieve this by embedding themselves into a host to feed on its blood. In New York State three primary tick species pose a threat to humans as they can be carriers for disease. These include dog ticks, lone star ticks, and blacklegged/deer ticks. 

Depending on their species and life stage ticks vary in appearance and size. An unfed nymph (the transitional period between larva and adult) can be as small as a poppyseed, and a fully-fed female adult can grow to the size of a raisin. An average adult’s body is roughly the size and shape of a sesame or apple seed, being very flat, and tear-shaped. 

Their color ranges from dark brown or almost black to a lighter beige. Often different species will have different patterns or markings: dog ticks are dark brown, with a beige spot on the body near the head if female (this is the scutum: females only have a partial scutum to allow for swelling while feeding) or have backs overlaid with a brown and beige checked pattern if male. Lone star ticks are nearly circular, and have a defining white spot on the center of their body when female, while the males are simply black and brown. Female blacklegged ticks stand out as their bodies are light brown, making the dark legs identifiable, while the males are entirely dark brown but have a light rim encircling the body. Across all ticks adults have eight legs, in the larval stage they have only six, that stick off their rounded bodies, and are topped with defined head and mouthparts. 


Taking Preventative Measures 

tick check removal farmer NYSIPMWhen a tick bites they secrete a small amount of anesthetic saliva. This ensures the host does not feel their bite. When combined with their small size, these factors make tick attachment incredibly hard to detect. 

Taking these precautions can prevent tick bites: 

  • Do a daily tick check at the end of each day: 
    • Check your entire body from the top of your head to between your toes. For areas that are hard to see, it can be helpful to use a mirror to get a better view. 
    • Inspect any new freckles or moles (if it has tiny legs, it’s a tick!). 
    • Ticks especially like moist and warm environments so pay special attention to any such places. 
    • Establish a daily check routine, either before showering or immediately after being outdoors in tick habitats.
  • While in the field if you see a tick crawling on you, remove it right away.
    • Squishing them will not work as they are so flat.
    • Consider carrying a small vial filled with rubbing alcohol to catch and effectively kill them.  
  • Reduce your tick risk in the field: 
    • Wear light colors so ticks are more apparent. 
    • Consider long sleeves and pants to cover more skin.
    • Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants. 
    • Place clothes from the day into the dryer for 20 minutes. The heat and tumbling will kill ticks along with other critters.
  • Be able to spot tick habitats. 
    • Ticks are most common in long grasses, forested environments, dense vegetation, and leaf litter.
  • Consider landscape management to discourage ticks: 
    • There are tick repellents available, for more information on choosing the best repellent for yourself and your environment see the Cornell IPM Blog posts
    • Perform tick drags to gain an understanding of tick density in your area. More information on how to do this can be found at NYS Integrated Pest Management, monitoring for ticks.   
    • As much as possible limit ground cover and remove debris.
    • Create borders that deter people from entering tick habitats, such as mulch borders against wooded areas. 
    • Ticks often travel on host animals; ranging from birds and mice to deer. Taking steps to keep wildlife off your property may decrease tick presence. 


Removing a Tick 

When attached, ticks embed into your skin. As a result, pulling them out with your fingers or attempting to scratch them off is not effective and may do more harm than good. 

There are many wrongly informed and potentially dangerous tick removal tricks such as burning, drowning, or squishing. These methods can have the undesired effect of agitating the tick, causing it to release its saliva (along with any pathogens and bacteria) into the host’s bloodstream. Simply taking a shower or bathing will not be enough to get rid of any ticks as they can survive fully submerged in water for hours.

When a tick is found, following the proper procedure will ensure a safe and smooth removal.  

The only proven method of tick removal is with a clean pair of sharp tweezers:

  • Locate the tick. If you cannot easily reach or see it on your own, get someone to help with the removal.
  • Obtain a pair of sharp tweezers.
  • Grab the tick as close to your skin as possible.
  • Gently pull up with even pressure until the tick comes out.

After removing the tick: 

  • Inspect the body to identify if the mouthpiece is still attached, there is a chance it was left behind in the skin. 
  • Should a piece still be embedded, there is no increased risk of disease transmission. However, be sure to thoroughly cleanse the area to prevent infection. 
  • If you are concerned about contracting a tick-borne disease keep the tick in a sealed container or vial of alcohol and have it tested for pathogens. 


Tick-borne Disease and Conditions 

Once attached, ticks will remain feeding for multiple days. There is no fixed timeline for the time it takes to contract a tick-borne illness. It can range from as low as minutes to as high as multiple days. It is best to remove ticks as soon as you notice them. 

There are multiple diseases and conditions humans can contract from ticks. The specific ailments vary and depend on species of tick, and each species can carry multiple pathogens at one time. Each year the list of tick-borne conditions continues to grow. A full list can be found by visiting the New York State Integrated Pest Management page.

The most well-known and prevalent tick-borne disease in New York State is Lyme Disease. This is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S., with 95% of all cases documented in the Northeast or Midwest. Lyme is most commonly transmitted from deer tick nymphs, they primarily feed on deer where they contract Lyme pathogens. Because the deer population in the northeast is high, along with the reduction in habitat driving deer to more urbanized spaces, this makes ticks and their associated conditions a pressing issue for those living in this region. 

It is important to be on the lookout for signs that you contracted a tick-borne condition or disease. These most often include:

  • Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, fever, and joint or muscle pain. 
  • Watch the site of tick extraction for any indicators, such as the infamous bullseye rash pattern, swelling, or unusual skin ailments. 
  • If these indicators manifest, seek medical attention. 
  • If you have the tick that bit you, take it to be tested.

For more details on ticks, their implications for human health, and what you can do to prevent getting them, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management website.

Avatar of Roxy Moore

Roxy Moore

Roxy Moore is a senior at Cornell University and works as an intern with the Cornell Small Farms Program.