During this especially warm May here in Michigan, you may have noticed an uptick (pun intended) in the ticks you've pulled off your dog after they've been outside. Michigan is seeing an explosion of ticks this spring... which experts say could be due to especially warm weather.
The two most common ticks in Michigan are the black-legged tick and the American dog tick. The Black-legged tick can transmit Lyme disease.
Jean Tsao is an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University. She studies ticks.
She says ticks don't really play an especially vital role in Michigan's environment.
"I don't know of any organism that really benefits from a big tick boom," she says. "I'm sure some animals who are generalists and eat lots of arthropods, they might be enjoying eating these ticks. But they don't serve that much of a purpose that we know of."
Tsao says it's a good idea to identify ideal tick habitats and avoid them.
"And by avoiding it, I don’t mean don't go outside, don’t enjoy nature. Just don’t necessarily be rolling around, for instance, in the leaf litter, which is where the black legged tick likes to hang out, and don't be rolling around in tall grasses, which is where the dog tick likes to hang out."
If you do venture out into a tick-heavy area, she says it's a good idea to check yourself, your clothes, and your pets for ticks within two hours of having been outside.
"[You’re very likely to find ticks before they attach, or get them soon after they attach. And the sooner you find ticks after they’ve attached, the lower the chance that if the tick’s infected, it will transmit something."
She says ticks are susceptible to drying out, so it's a great idea to throw your clothes in the dryer for ten minutes on high heat to kill any ticks who might've hitched a ride.
Other ways people can prevent tick bites is to wear long sleeves and long pants when venturing into tick-heavy areas, like tall grass or a forest. EPA-registered IE approved repellant is also a good idea—Tsao says you can spray your footwear and your clothes, or you can treat your clothes with permethrin.
"One thing that's good about permethrin is that it can be locked into clothes for several washes. You can even by clothes with permethrin impregnated, and some of those are supposedly good for 60-70 washes," she says.
You should also make sure your pets are up to date on their flea and tick medication.
Tsao also wants people to contribute to tick research as "citizen scientists." If you pull a tick off you, your clothes, or your dog, take a picture of it and submit it to the Tick App.