MAINE, USA — Over the past month, you may have noticed on social media some Mainers talking about spotting ticks on themselves or their pets. Despite the fact that it's no longer "tick season," all it takes are some mild temperatures for ticks to emerge again.
Griffin Dill, the coordinator of the University of Maine Extension Tick Lab, said this type of tick activity is not unusual based on the warmer winter weather we've had this season.
Dill said peak activity for deer ticks usually takes place in the fall. But he added that activity can continue into winter months if temperatures rise above freezing.
UMaine Extension's Tick Lab collects tick samples from Mainers all year long. Dill said this week alone they have received about a half dozen samples.
Dill explained ticks spend the winters at ground level, just below the soil, as they wait out the cold temperatures. But the ticks can sense when the temperatures get warmer, and that's when they start to reemerge.
If Maine continues to see this trend of mild winters, Dill added this could have greater impacts on our tick population.
"It's really giving those adults an extra chance to find their third and final host, they're looking for that third meal so that they can produce eggs, they can reproduce, and lay those eggs in the spring," Dill explained. "So, if they're having an extra opportunity to do that, they're having an extended opportunity, that means more of those ticks will be able to feed and we may see increasing tick populations as a result."
The lab conducts a number of studies each year to take a closer look at ticks and tickborne diseases. But Dill said it's difficult to try and manage or control the tick population.
"There's not really a comprehensive plan we can take to try and reduce the tick population across the entire state because one, it's so forested and a lot of it is private land, so the state just has no jurisdiction over much of that property. So, it kind of falls on the individual homeowner to try to reduce tick populations in any way they can on their own property," Dill said.
Dill added it's a good idea to get in the habit of conducting regular tick checks on yourself, your kids, and your pets after spending any time outside, even if you're just running out to the compost or checking the mailbox.