As fall starts to fade and the weather grows cold, it seems like the perfect time to say good-bye to most insects. While winter weather brings the chill here in Northeastern Pa., you shouldn’t let your pest guard down, especially when it comes to ticks.
Though most insects tend to hide away as temperatures drop, ticks can still hang around well into the coldest months of the year. So, how do ticks survive these fridge temps, and what does that mean for us?
The Trouble with Ticks
Ticks are tiny parasites that require blood from a host to survive. They are so small, in fact, that you may not even notice when one crawls on you. These tiny insects can’t jump, but they do climb, and they latch onto any possible host that passes them by. They can feast on a range of animals, like rodents, birds, or other wildlife. They can also latch onto humans or household pets.
Ticks are particularly dangerous because of the diseases they transmit, such as Rocky Mountain fever or Lyme disease. Typically, they can be found anywhere in greenery, like tall grass or in trees, waiting to latch on to a host. However, they are most plentiful in the warmer months. When winter rolls around, we tend to let our guard down. But is that a good idea?
Weather vs. Tick
In the heat of the summer, ticks thrive. They love moist and wet environments, so spring and fall are perfect as well. The rumor is that the winter takes care of the ticks, however, that’s not necessarily true. Ticks have trouble surviving during the winter, but that doesn’t mean they don’t. Ticks typically die in weather -2 degrees to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. However, that can be affected by the environment, the type of tick, and how deep they burrow.
The American dog tick and Lone Star ticks may vanish as the weather changes, but the black-legged tick will hang around longer. Sadly, it’s not the cold that kills them, but the rapid change in temperature.
How Ticks Survive the Winter
According to studies, only about 20% of the tick population dies off during the winter. Depending on the type of winter, land conditions and adaptations give them ways to survive. Black-legged ticks tend to burrow deep into solid, lead litters, and snow. If there’s a space that can provide some insulation, ticks can survive.
For survival, most ticks will burrow to escape the cold. They can also decrease the amount of water in their cells to stop from freezing. They’ve developed a natural anti-freeze called “cryoprotectant,” and have thus found a way to escape the deep freeze.
The Frost-bitten Truth
When it comes to the big freeze, ticks don’t die from cold outright in the winter months; they can adapt to avoid it. Additionally, snow does not kill them. It can actually help them by acting as an insulator. Ticks can survive long into the winter months so long as they can find a place to cozy up. If you have piles of leaves leftover from fall or live in a place that experiences heavy snowfall, you can bet there will be some ticks hiding out.
While cold weather will kill them, it has to get to them. The change in temp lures them to the surface and a quick freeze kills them. Of all the tick species, black-legged ticks are most abundant during the cold weather and they may be desperate for a host. Unfortunately, they are most well-known for carrying Lyme disease. Our best hope against ticks is a dry, bitterly cold winter.
Protection Required All Year Long
Unfortunately, you and your pets aren’t safe from ticks all year round. These pests can easily find places to hide away from the frigid temps. Ticks tend to hide away in firewood, trees, or they can bury themselves in leaves. Regardless of the weather outside, you should always do a tick check after being outdoors, no matter what. Also, when it comes to pets, it’s not a good idea to skip the flea and tick medicine in the cold months either.
If you do venture out in the cold this winter, here is what you can do to protect from ticks:
- Wear light-colored clothes to spot ticks more easily. It’s much easier to spot a black-legged tick on a white shirt.
- Tuck pants into socks. Most often ticks will climb on at your lowest point. By tucking your pants into your socks or boots, they won’t be able to reach your skin.
- Always do a body check. When you come back inside, do a thorough check, especially the warmer parts of your body like your armpits or the backs of your knees. Ticks will be seeking a warm place to feed.
- Wear tick repellant outside, preferably containing DEET.
Following these simple steps can keep you safe from ticks no matter the season! Just be sure to protect yourself from these tiny little pests.
No matter the time of year, ticks can be a problem. Take the proper precautions when heading outdoors and protect yourself. While winter may grant us a reprieve from most insects, it always pays to be prepared for the sneaky ones that stick around.