Beware the tick – Oct 2018

Hello everyone! I hope you have enjoyed a Summer of extreme heat and dry ponds, followed by Storm Ali, lots of rain and, dry ponds still. That, at least, is the case in Quarry Wood where our muddy wallow remains in a conspicuously, un-pond-like state! It will be interesting to see just how much rain the ground will soak up before we see our pond creeping along the woodland floor again.

Autumn is upon us once again. Mabon has passed (Lammas, Mabon and Samhain – Nov 2008), the good ladies of Rattlebag delighted us with a seasonal rendition of Gather Up and foragers are scouring the countryside for culinary delights.

Gather up the dill
And the thyme
And the walnuts.
The fennel
And the sage
And the garlic
And the foxgloves.

Matt Berry (2013)

The trees and undergrowth are in a constant state of commotion as Squirrels scurry about searching for nuts and acorns for their winter caches; stopping briefly to gnaw on the odd chestnut (Grey Clouds – Feb 2018). Insects are still dancing in Phoebus’ rays in the last of the warm, sunny days and the gateway to our little reserve has a late maturing wasps’ nest guarding the entrance. Woodland green is giving way to gold and red as the trees flaunt their amazing techni-coloured dream coats.

Forgive me dear reader for the most tenuous of links as I segue from autumn leaves to shelf-scanning in bookshops. Dozens and dozens of books on natural history appear each year showing us how to identify fauna and flora from the four corners of the Earth or detailing a year in the life of birdwatchers, botanists, country parsons, poets and artists. All of them are entertaining in some form and I have found that many of them fill in a gap in my knowledge base, even if it is the most minute of details.

However, not many of them offer a more serious message than a beautifully written gem I found in the children’s section of a local book vendor. Spot The Tick in England is a charming little book created by Lorraine Damonte with one goal in mind, to raise awareness about the prevention of Lyme Disease, a truly horrible bacterial infection that is spread by contaminated Ticks. Lorraine suffered for six years after being diagnosed and is reliant still on several treatments to maintain good health, so she really does speak from experience.

Along with Mites, Ticks make up the Subclass Acari, of the Class Arachnida most commonly associated with spiders, scorpions and Hollywood phobia films. They tend to be very small, typically less than 5mm long, with round bodies and no obvious segmentation.

They are divided into two Families, the Ixodidae which are the flat-bodied, Hard or Scale Ticks and the Argasidae, the Soft Ticks, the majority of which possess rounded, berry-like bodies, though, just to prove the rule, some species are flattened. In general, it is the Hard Ticks that spread Lyme disease. On our little island it is the Deer or Sheep Tick (Ixodes ricinus), the Hedgehog Tick (I. hexagonus) and the Fox Tick (I. canisuga) that are chiefly responsible for transmitting the disease to people and their pets. However, all Ticks can carry Lyme disease.

When a Tick is in need of a meal it will simply wait on some low vegetation, stretch its front legs out, and when something brushes past it will hook onto it and go in search of a suitable feeding site. Like Mosquitoes and malaria, it is not the Tick bite, unpleasant as it is, that is the real danger to Human Beings, it is the bacteria they are infected with. In the case of Lyme Disease, the culprit in question is Borrelia burgdorferi, commonly found in birds and rodents. Ticks that feed on infected animals can infect their next host, whether it be animal or human, by transferring saliva or even their stomach contents into the victim’s bloodstream.

Unfortunately, the incidences of the disease in the UK are rising each year. Much of the blame is given to an increase in the number of Deer throughout the country. They are the preferred host of I. ricinus. The Ticks very rarely become infected from Deer and tend to acquire the microbe from the aforementioned rodents and birds.

This all sounds pretty ghastly, and, that is exactly what it is. There is a huge amount of information online if people want to read the gruesome details about how a Tick feeds on its host’s blood, how to remove Ticks, and the symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease. Suffice to say that the best way to avoid the disease is to reduce the probability of getting bitten. Cover up, especially when in long grass, undergrowth and woodland. For those of us who spend a lot of time in those environments, the advice is to do a thorough body check for Ticks after our fun in the green gym.

Enjoy the Autumn, take precautions when clearing those leaves and, as Lorraine Damonte put it, Think smart, think tick, spot the tick!

Put me right at pgcrow@yahoo.com

Paul Johnson

 

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Image credits: Original Quarry Wood and Crowhurst Community Arts photography: Lorna Neville; img 7: Spot the Tick book cover by Paul Johnson; img 8: Deer Tick by Adam Roscoe, used under Creative Commons License 2.0; img 9: Sheep Tick by Andy Murray, used under CC2.0; img 10: Deer Tick by John Flannery, used under CC2.0.

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