Summer means reconnecting with those who were scarce during the cold weather, our seasonal neighbors and nesting birds, along with the reemergence of our least favorite warm weather critter — ticks.
Three tick species have claimed Shelter Island as their own: the deer tick, the American dog tick, and the lone star tick. All three species have a life cycle of approximately two years with four stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. To survive, the ticks feed on the blood of a host during each stage of their life cycle.
Deer or black-legged ticks, are found in deciduous forests and can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. The American dog tick can be found prowling in grassy areas and can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. Lone star ticks move swiftly and are a vector of the bacteria that causes ehrlichiosis, as well as the alpha gal molecule, which sometimes leads to a red meat allergy.
To protect yourself from tickborne illnesses, you should understand when you are at greatest risk of tick exposure. In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, the Town of Shelter Island, and the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases, Kate Thornburg, a researcher from Cornell, is dedicating her summer to sampling ticks across the island. Thornburg’s goal is to find “hot or cold spots” for tick species so Island residents and visitors can make informed decisions about when, where, and how they enjoy nature.
To prevent tick bites, throw your clothes directly in the dryer (ticks can’t survive dry heat!), take a shower, and check yourself thoroughly for ticks after spending time outdoors.