Lynn Youngblood: Simple steps to ward off biting bugs
Do you come back from a walk in the woods, prairies, or even across the lawn and have that creepy-crawly feeling? Or do you just stay home and wish you had the guts to venture out, but the fear of what lurks out there keeps you in?
You don’t have to stay at home and watch the nature channel anymore to feed your natural desire to enjoy the outdoors. Being prepared and informed, and wearing the proper clothes will allow you to go outside, free from the worries of the unknown.
If it is the creepy-crawly-types, such as ticks, that bother you most about the outdoors, let’s first learn a bit more. There are three main types of ticks in this part of the Midwest, the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) and the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), sometimes called the blacklegged tick.
Stories that ticks drop out of trees simply are not true. Ticks do not jump, run or fly. They do have barbs at the end of their feet, and sit with their thumbs out waiting to hitchhike onto the next passerby. This is actually called “questing.”
It is best to wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves and long pants tucked in your boots or socks. The light-colored clothing makes it easier for you to see the little guys as they cling to you and begin their march upward. (This also helps keep mosquitoes away.) Be sure to check your dogs as they enter the house as they can bring ticks inside; especially dog ticks. These ticks can cling to upholstered furniture and hide in baseboards. (Since you are living the GREEN life – we know you are not letting your cat outside!) If you see a tick with a white dot or “star” in the center of its back, it’s probably a Lone Star tick. Ticks prefer taller grasses, shrubs and small trees, and are rarely in mowed lawns.
Chiggers in the woods and fields are probably no worse than in your backyard. Contrary to popular belief, chiggers (Trombicula alfreddugesi) do not burrow under your skin; chiggers in the larval stage inject saliva that contains a digestive enzyme and then proceed to drink your dissolved skin tissue. Adult chiggers do not feed on you – they feed on various plant materials and small arthropods (insects, arachnids, and crustaceans). Chiggers are tiny mites and are nearly microscopic.
Use an insect repellent for most enjoyable, pest-free outdoor experiences. If you like using natural products, there are products such as Burt’s Bees Lemon Grass Insect Lotion, or Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent. Both are Deet-free.
Of course, when you get back from your outdoor adventure you will need to do a tick check. If you have been out for an extended period of time it’s best to change your clothes. Take a cool shower to wash off the sweat, refresh yourself and help reduce the number of chigger bites, and possibly exposure to poison ivy.
None of this is very complicated and certainly not enough to keep you indoors when there is so much outdoors to enjoy.
So, turn off the TV, and go outside and play!
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.