Tick season means it’s hammer time

Tick season means it's hammer time By Bob Karolevitz This is tick season, and the best way to avoid them is to sit inside a glass bubble for two or three months.

Now I'll admit that's not very practical, so the next best thing is to subject yourself to a thorough strip-search every time you walk among the trees or out in high weeds.

Ticks are the vampires of the spider world. They're six-legged arachnids and not simple insects like ants and ladybugs. They live by sucking blood, and they blow up like a small balloon when their feasting is not interrupted.

They are also avid hitch-hikers, clinging to a blade of grass or a tree leaf until a man or beast walks by. Then they hop on for a ride and a free meal.

Phyllis doesn't like ticks, and neither do I. We can survive gnats, heel flies and mosquitoes with vanilla and assorted repellents, but ticks are not easily thwarted.

They come in various sizes, but none of them are popular. They tell me we've got 17 different kinds in South Dakota, but the most common one is the hard-shelled wood or dog tick.

In a way they resemble a very small turtle, and they're very hard to kill. The best way is to put one on a block of wood and then smash it with a hammer. That sounds sort of gruesome, but by the time you catch one, you're mad enough to beat the bejabbers out of it.

I suppose there are tick-lovers out there who will chastise me for cruelty to those lovely little creatures, but they probably have never been bitten by one. Ticks have no redeeming features, as far as I can tell. Ogden Nash, the clever versifier, once wrote something like God created the fly, but he didn't know why. However, Nash never did memorialize the tick, which rhymes with sick.

And speaking of sick, ticks cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, tularemia and something called heartwater sickness. That should have been enough to cause Noah to keep them off the ark, but they probably sneaked aboard on a sheep or an unsuspecting dog.

Actually, odds are pretty slim that you'll catch one of the maladies because it supposedly takes a couple hours of feeding time for the tick � if it happens to be a carrier � to infect you. By then I would hope that you'd have plucked it off and given it a shot with the nearest hammer.

About the only thing they've got going for them is that they are only around in the springtime and early summer. When the hot weather comes, they burrow into the ground for a long siesta until the following April. Frankly, I wish they'd over-sleep.

I don't know how ticks mate (I don't know how porcupines do, either), but the female lays several thousand eggs. Her tiny offspring are known as seed ticks, and they don't survive unless they find something to feed on, like a squirrel, a bird or a bunny.

Most of the seed ticks don't make it, the entomologists say, which is something we can all be thankful for. I know I am!

The extension folks suggest that we should wear light-colored clothing when we stroll through the underbrush during tick season. That way you can see the creepy-crawly things when you come back in for the seek-and-pluck session.

I suppose I'll have to get a pair of white pants and dress like an old-fashioned soda jerk when I go out for chores. Phyllis says the glass bubble is out.

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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