Tick Control

Indoor Tick Control

Generally, ticks are not a serious indoor pest. Most tick species cannot live very long inside, as it is too dry for them. Ticks require a habitat with a very high humidity (>80%). They may enter your house on your pets or on your clothing, but they aren't likely to become established. A good exception is the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineous. The best way to prevent ticks from entering your home is by thoroughly examining yourself and your pets before you go inside - especially, if you've been in tick habitat. After removing your clothes, put them directly into the washer rather than on the floor or in a hamper. Fine brushes are very effective at removing crawling ticks and finding attached ones. It is a good idea to brush your dog or cat once a day.

There are a variety of pesticides that you can use to control ticks. Most hardware stores and even large stores like Wal-Mart sell pesticides. Pyrethrins or Permethrins are recommended, relatively safe chemicals. Another choice is Chlorpyrifos (Dursban). Of course, there are heavy duty chemicals including Diaznon, Malathion.

Try to identify the ticks if they are found indoors. Brown dog ticks are small (about 1/8 inch) and have a uniform color of reddish brown. If you have these you will most definitely have to treat inside your house. To control any ticks indoors, first, vacuum thoroughly (especially cracks and crevices near dog resting spots); then treat with a properly labeled acaricide. Several pesticides are labeled for tick control including allethrin, bendiocarb, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, esfenvalerate, and permethrin (or other pyrethrins). If you have any other tick species indoors, it's better to take preventative steps with daily tick checks. Repellents can be used to help keep the ticks off yourself and your pets. Products with 20 - 25% DEET are effective. Generally higher concentrations of DEET are not advised because they provide no better repellency and can cause more serious skin reactions.

Backyard Tick Control

A typical lawn is not considered good tick habitat, especially for deer ticks. Deer ticks are very susceptible to desiccation, and the typical well-mowed lawn, receiving lots of direct sunlight, is not conducive to maintaining high tick populations. The American dog tick, however, is hardier and able to survive well in lawns and fields. Most control efforts should be focused on the edge of your lawn, especially if it is adjacent to wooded areas or other habitats harboring tick populations. There are several options for tick control in your yard. First, try altering your yard's landscape such that it is not tick "friendly". In other words, reduce mouse and other small mammal nesting sites - such as brush and wood piles. If possible, fence the yard so that deer and other tick hosts cannot walk through it. Deer certainly carry ticks on them and it is possible that engorged female ticks could get deposited via grazing deer. Cut back overhanging limbs or put "barriers" between your yard and the wooded areas. For example, a 2 - 5 foot wide stripe of wood chips or decorative stones can help to prevent ticks from entering your lawn. This can serve as a physical reminder that you're entering tick habitat.

If it is impractical to implement the habitat manipulations, you may have to apply acaricides. However, you don't necessarily have to treat the entire yard. A perimeter treatment around the house itself may be ineffective. Remember, ticks only enter your home on you or your pets. They do very little horizontal migration on the ground. The idea of a perimeter spraying is to keep the insects from crawling into your house. Ticks won't do that by nature. Control efforts are best focused at your yard's edge, especially where the yard borders woods. The exception would be if you have an existing infestation of dog ticks, for example. Generally, spraying works best around the outside edges of your lawn, about 5 - 10 feet in from the wood's edge. Again, very few ticks are found in the middle of a well-maintained lawn with lots of direct sunlight because this type of area would most likely desiccate the ticks. Consequently, if you have these types of open areas, it is not effective to spray them unless you know that ticks present throughout your lawn. Consideration should be given to areas of the yard that get lots of shade, have bushes or other landscaping features and areas suitable for small mammal harborage. You can use the same chemicals as listed above. In this case, consider a granular or wettable powder formulation as these tend to give better penetration into the leaf litter and better residual protection. If you do spray your yard, keep pets off the treated areas for 24 hours.

Alternative Control Measures

Ticks have many natural predators in the environment. Several wasp species will parasitize ticks, including the chalcid wasp (Ixodiphagus hookeri) has been studied quite extensively. The female wasp lays her eggs inside an engorged nymph. After the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the tick's internal tissues and then emerge, killing the tick in the process. Many species of spiders also eat ticks if they can find them. Also, there are a variety of fungi and nematodes that feed on and kill ticks while they are molting in the soil. These organisms, in particular the fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae, are beginning to be intensely studied for their pathogenic effects. Birds will certainly eat ticks they’ve encounter during foraging. The most notable is the helmeted guineafowl, Numida meleagris. Studies have shown that these birds will readily forage on ticks both engorged and nonengorged.

Unfortunately, none of these organisms have any real success in controlling tick populations. Biological control agents are not yet ready for widespread use in tick management programs. The thought in some recent studies has been to augment some of these natural predators with other natural enemies. However, studies have also met with varying degrees of success. Ideally, a well-designed tick control strategy would employ some use of natural enemies, mixed with targeted acaricide application, habitat modification and perhaps even host reduction. However, the right combination of these efforts will most certainly vary from one location to the next and be dependent upon available resources.

The most effective way an individual can reduce their risk of contracting any disease vectored by ticks is to practice several important personal precautions. 

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