While having coffee with a couple of my hunting friends, one of them commented on the most unusual warm weather we are having during February.
“We are going to have a terrible time with ticks and mosquitoes (this) summer,” he said. “When we have a mild winter, the bloodsuckers don’t get killed off, so we will have 10 times as many later on.”
Having been raised on a farm, I heard many of my country relatives say the same thing. Through the years, I have come to realize this isn’t entirely accurate.
About a decade ago on an April morning, I was sitting in a blind in Monroe County, trying my best to call in a turkey gobbler. As I listened intently to an old Tom make his music, I noticed three ticks climbing my pants leg. Only then did I realize that I had forgotten to apply Permanone to my clothing.
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Emptying the contents of a plastic aspirin bottle into my shirt pocket, I captured the ticks and placed them in the container. Remembering the old tale about freezing weather killing insects, I placed the bottle in my freezer that night. Three months later, I took the bottle out and dumped the ticks on a sheet of copy paper. They looked very dead.
A phone call interrupted me, and after about 15 minutes of conversation, I returned to the ticks -- as they were trying to crawl off the paper.
When the temperature goes down toward the freezing mark, these insects go into a semi-dormant stage. Their metabolism slows down, and they become inactive. Adult mosquitoes will usually die after a certain amount of exposure to freezing temperatures, but they have produced gazillions of eggs, some of which can hatch as much as three years later. Those that hatch after such a long time have not been exposed to water. In summer, a new egg dumped in water can become an adult mosquito in less than a week.
The tick is far more durable. A tick that resides in Georgia crawls into leaf mold or into a crack in tree bark and takes a long nap during cold weather, but it does not die. On winter days when the air temperature climbs up to 65 degrees, it begins to stir, looking for a host with warm blood. Finding warmth and food and nestled in warm fur, it is right at home until it takes its fill of blood and drops off. Then it finds a hiding place and goes to sleep again as the temperature drops.
My research leads me to believe that some ticks will die from extremely cold temperatures in the below-zero range, but only those that do not go underground. Nestled comfortably in leaf mold, they are insulated enough to survive.
I was prompted to write on this subject because when I showered recently, I found a healthy tick embedded in my thigh -- a result of a nice stroll in the woods the day before.
Emory Josey is a freelance writer who has a weekly column. Send questions for him to The Telegraph, P.O. Box 4167, Macon, Ga., 31208-4167, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org