More warnings about emerging tick season in Vermont

Mice population to blame

Metro Art

— It's going to be an intense tick season in Vermont this year. Blame it on the white-footed mouse and the acorns.

What do mice and acorns have to do with ticks?

In 2010 oak trees produced a bumper crop of acorns, a favorite of the white-footed mouse. Plenty of food led to plenty of mice and their population swelled in 2011. In turn, lots of white-footed mice meant easy feeding opportunities for the black-legged or deer tick larvae. You might call it the "perfect storm."

Ticks are a known carrier of Lyme disease, which can cause skin rashes, fatigue, fever, chills, and pain and swelling in the muscles and joints. If left untreated, it can lead to heart problems and neurological disorders. However, patients treated with antibiotics in the early stage of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely.

To understand how ticks may transmit Lyme disease to their hosts, you need to understand their life cycle. The deer tick has three growth stages: larva, nymph and adult. It takes about two years for a tick to hatch from an egg, grow through the three growth stages, reproduce and then die. Ticks need a blood meal to progress to each successive growth stage.

Each adult female lays about 3,000 eggs in the spring, which hatch into larvae. The larvae wait on the ground for a small mammal or bird to brush against them so they can attach themselves to their hosts for their first blood meal. A single mouse can carry hundreds of larvae.

Contrary to popular belief, larvae are not born infected with Lyme disease. Only if their host is infected will they become infected.

After feeding, they drop off, and in the fall molt into nymphs. In cold temperatures the nymphs are inactive but awaken in spring hungry for their next blood meal. Like larvae, they wait on vegetation near the ground for a host mammal or bird to wander by.

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