Monday, September 10, 2012

Back into the Woods

Long time no blog, eh?

Well, the recent rain after a very long drought has definitely revitalized the woods (mostly) along with my motivation (mostly).  Only a few days after the rains, following an almost three month hiking-hiatus,  I ventured out into the refreshingly humid woods and was quickly rewarded with just under three pounds of oyster mushrooms!  Very encouraging.  I even came across a rotting Chicken-of-the-Woods, while sad, still quite encouraging.

A delicious "mother log" of oyster mushrooms

 The temperature here has cooled down nicely as well and the woods are once more a place of pleasant rambling.

See?  It's quite pleasant.

However, things are not always as perfect as they seem.  For just beyond the edge of the trail, scattered throughout the woodland, lies a sinister force. A creeping doom that can strike at a moment's notice. Yes, it is once again.....

Paintshop is fun.

If you've spent any time in the woods in late summer and early fall, you most likely know about and more likely have had run-ins with the minute, blood-sucking woodland gangs referred to as "seed ticks".

So, what is a seed tick?  Aside from a pain in the ass, "seed ticks" are simply larval ticks.  Larval ticks?  Yes, larval ticks.   Lets look at the generalized tick life cycle for a moment.

Typical "hard" tick lifecycle

As you can see, clusters of eggs (100's to 1000's of eggs) are laid by female ticks.  These eggs then hatch into clusters of larval, aka "seed" ticks.  A host (deer, dog, squirrel, unlucky hiker) meanders by this cluster of seed ticks and provides them with a tiny blood-meal.  These larvae then drop off of the host and molt into nymphs.  The nymph form differs from the larval form in that nymphal ticks will have 8 legs instead of six and are much larger than a speck of pepper.  Additionally, nymphs are more manageable.  You won't typically look down and find your pant leg covered in hundreds of nymphal ticks.  Which brings me to the reason why seed ticks are so sinister.  With larval ticks, you WILL look down and find your pants covered in hundreds of individuals.   As if someone sprinkled black pepper all over your legs, but the pepper moves on its own and proceeds to spread out across your clothing and into every hidden recess of your body.

Each tiny speck is an individual larval tick!

Anyways.  These nymphal ticks will obtain a blood meal and then molt into the large, more noticeable adults.  Female adults will obtain a blood meal and then lay the sinister masses of eggs that will one day hatch and swarm your legs as you hike through the woods.

Questing (waiting for a meal) adult female Lone Star Tick

Seed ticks are masters of ambush, however, with a vigilant eye, and a small supply of duct-tape anyone can combat these stealthy, blood-thirsty denizens of the woods.


So, there you have it.   As long as you have your duct tape, you will always be able to defend yourself.   One piece of good news about seed ticks is that they are not born infected with tick-borne diseases, but are infected themselves by various reservoir hosts.  So, at least the hundreds of ticks crawling across your legs because you didn't notice them in time can't get you sick....nymphs and adults, of course, can.

Check out some useful tick info from the Center for Disease Control  here.