MARSHALL - A mild winter followed by warm, humid conditions is ideal for one of nature's most annoying pests: ticks.
"We've got an explosion of them now, and I think it's going to get worse," said Scott Kuecker, owner of the Marshall Animal Clinic.
Bruce Potter, entomologist and pest management specialist at the University of Minnesota's Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton, said he's seen quite a few wood ticks, the kind that prey on dogs, walking around the grass.
"They like warmth and humidity, so last year was probably pretty good for them," Potter said. "It's not usually the woods, they like grassy areas and bushes they can wait and drop off of when they sense warm blood."
According to Potter, a tick must feast on blood three times in its life cycle. A tick hatches from an egg as a six-legged larva, which hangs around until it finds a small mammal to feed on. It then drops off, molts and becomes an eight-legged nymph, which in turn finds a host, feeds, drops off and molts to become a male or female adult.
The adults are the ticks we find on our pets and ourselves. They must feed before they mate, after which the male dies, and the female drops off to lay eggs.
Aside from the nuisance, wood ticks are carriers of diseases such as Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis.
"Lyme Disease and Ehrlichiosis are more common up north," Kuecker said, "but they do show up here because of Camden nearby, and people going north and south with their dogs. We've had a number of cases of Lyme and even more of Ehrlichiosis."
Symptoms of Lyme disease generally start with a circular expanding rash at the bite site, followed by flu-like symptoms, such as headache, muscle soreness, fever and fatigue. Lyme responds to antibiotics, but left untreated can become serious and difficult to treat.
Signs of Ehrlichiosis include fever, skin eruptions, bleeding disorders and discharge from the nose and eyes. Untreated it can become chronic.
The best way to deal with ticks is not to let them on your pets.
"There are some wonderful tick repellent products," Kuecker said, "and because of the competition, the prices are reasonable. Frontline and Frontline Plus are the most effective and safest. Be cautious about permethrin-based products with small dogs. If little pugs and Yorkies, weighing about seven pounds, get a big dog dose for a 20- to 40-pound dog they can have severe reactions. Always check the directions."