Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wildlife Wednesday: Seed Ticks

I already hated ticks.  To me, they're spiders that won't brush off (and we all know how I feel about spiders). After this weekend, I have a renewed disdain toward the parasitic arachnid.

The boys and I woke Friday morning and emerged sleepy-eyed from our tent.  I built a fire, made breakfast and packed our daypacks. By nine we were headed for the Pocomoke Park Quest in Milburn Landing.

We easily found the park and the starting point for our quest.  We opened the lid of the wooden chest containing our quest equipment and instructions.  The lid was heavy and it opened with a crash. I jumped back with a squeak.

Not a seed tick. Very big wolf spider.
We quickly grabbed our gear, checked it for other eight-legged friends, and hit the trail.  All three of us were coated in bug repellent, but it was the natural stuff.  Deet makes me sick and I've always figured, unless we're hiking in malaria prone areas, we'll forego the chemicals.  I may revise this thought process.

We completed our quest (a sort of combination letterbox/activity deal) with ease.  But somewhere between the oversized Wolf Spider, the cyprus swamp, and the Pocomoke River, Matt walked through what others on the Internet call a tick bomb.

We didn't know until he used the restroom post-quest.  He opened the stall door to show me a spattering of bug bites in the area of his shorts.  At first, I thought he got an ant in his shorts, but by the time we got back to our tent, he had over a hundred bites on his torso.

"What are these little black things?" he asked.  I looked closer and realized they were teeny tiny, smaller than a pinhead, ticks!  We stripped him naked and began picking the things off.  I did my best to squish each one with my fingernails and deposited them in a ziplock bag.

The blurred dot by my thumb is the tick.
BugGuide has a clearer image.

I lost count of how many we pulled off Matt, but the real problem came when we realized twenty-four of the evil things had attached themselves where no boy should have ticks attached. My boy was not letting me anywhere near that area with my tweezers.  I didn't have vaseline with us, but I tried a thick first aid cream to see if they would release. No luck.  We tried a long soak in the chlorinated water of the pool. No luck.  In the end, we went to the emergency room.

The E.R. staff was very sweet.  The nurses tried several applications of vaseline and a special soap (which it turns out, is the wrong thing to do), but still no luck. The doctor saw us for less than a minute and was convinced the boy had chiggers. She sent us home just before midnight with a prescription for an antibiotic and instructions to get some lice shampoo, kill the little buggers and use sticky tape to remove the carcasses.

I did not buy the chigger diagnoses, but the lice shampoo worked to some degree.  A day in the ocean got rid of even more. A conversation with a sympathetic ranger at Jane's Island pointed me toward the seed tick diagnosis.  As soon as we got home, I hit the Internet and confirmed her suspicion.

According to my research, chiggers leave flat, welt-like bites.  Ticks leave raised, hard bites.  Chiggers are nearly microscopic and difficult to see with the naked eye.  Seed ticks are extremely small, but I was able to make out legs even without my bifocals.

Seed ticks are not a specific kind of tick, but are "baby" ticks. They hatch in the thousands.  Walking through a newly hatched nest is like being sprayed with tick shrapnel. Hence the term "tick bomb." Matt was lucky in that he picked up a hundred or so, but not a thousand.

I'm scratching just thinking about them.

In the end, I waited until he fell asleep and got the last two with my tweezers.  Hopefully, the kid hasn't been traumatized for life by the great ... or rather tiny outdoors.

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Sources and Further Reading

"First Aid for Tick Bites," Oklahoma Poison Control Center

"Seed Ticks: The Devil's Spawn," Mayaland

"Seed Ticks," Flea and Tick Control

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