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'They're here to stay': More ticks in Michigan this year than ever before

MSU Entomologist Howard Russell says the number of ticks in the Lower Peninsula has greatly increased over the last decade.
American Dog Tick
Posted at 4:18 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 19:34:01-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — An entomologist with Michigan State University says the number of ticks throughout the state has been increasing over the last year, particularly in West Michigan.

While there are five types of ticks found throughout Michigan, there are two that are most commonly found in the state—the American dog tick and the deer (or black-legged) tick.

Howard Russell, M.S., with the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences at MSU, says the prevalence of these two types of ticks has been steadily growing over the past decade.

“I get lots of calls from people who've never had ticks in their yards, or in their cabins up north, and now they can't put the kids or the dogs outside to play without having ticks come back in with them,” Russell told FOX 17 on Friday.

"Their numbers have been increasing over the last 10 years, and this year is worse than last year.”

American Dog Tick
Example of an American Dog Tick

American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
-The most common tick in Michigan
-Have white markings on their backs that should be visible
-Can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and a few other tick-borne diseases
-Active from early May–November
-Will bite humans and pets

Deer Tick/ Black-Legged Tick (Ixodes scapularis)
-Can spread potentially deadly Lyme disease
-Found most commonly on the western side of the state
-Often Found on forest vegetation, and along trails

Russell says the possibility of catching Lyme disease from a tick is very real in Michigan.

“We have several hundred cases of Lyme disease a year in Michigan," he said Friday. "And the stage that's most likely to transmit is the nymph stage, which occurs in July, and it's a very, very tiny tick.”

Lyme disease risk areas.jpeg
Areas labeled 'known risk' identify counties in which ticks with Lyme Disease have been confirmed

All of the ticks found in Michigan are what's known as 'Three Host Ticks'— meaning they find at least three hosts to feed on throughout their typical life cycle.

Once they hatch from an egg (larval stage), they will typically find a mouse to feed on for a while, before dropping off.

From there, they will molt and turn into the nymph, eventually finding another host to feed off (usually another mouse, or larger animal).

Once it's had its fill on that animal, it will drop off and molt again, eventually becoming an adult.

“I think they're just a reality that we're all going to have to get used to,” Russell told FOX 17 on Friday.

Researchers from Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin have launched The Tick App in an effort to track ticks across the country. You can download the app to your phone to report ticks and see how bad they are in your own county.

You can find info about how best to avoid ticks, and remove them once they've attached themselves, at this website maintained by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Tick Removal Meme.png

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