Thursday, March 19, 2015

What Makes Them Tick - By Bo Gould (intern)

There are plenty of good reasons to stay on marked trails throughout the Puente Hills Preserve. For one, these lands are gradually returning to their native condition as vegetation reclaims degraded terrain. The surrounding natural landscape is also home to abundant biodiversity including rare and endangered native wildlife species that depend on native habitat. Furthermore, off-trail areas contain risks to humans like cactus, poison oak, and rattlesnakes. If all of this is not enough to keep you (and your pet if allowed) on marked trails, there is another creature that could be lurking in any shrub or grass, one that will suck your blood given the chance and this time of year can be their peak activity time!

Ticks are small parasites that belong to the arachnid family. They can be identified as having eight legs and two claw-like appendages called palpi. Two of the most common tick species in California are Ixodes pacificus (commonly known as western black-legged or deer ticks) and Dermacentor occidentalis (Pacific Coast tick).

Both of these species live by attaching to their host---usually a mammal or bird---and feeding on their blood. All ticks have four life stages; egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. Larval ticks hatch with 3 pair of legs and acquire fourth pair after their first blood meal as they enter the nymph stage. Nymphs tend to be very small, live on the ground, and are difficult to detect. Incapable of jumping or flying, adult ticks exhibit a behavior known as “questing.” Questing ticks hold on to branches or grasses with their third and fourth pair of legs and stretch out their first pair of legs to attach to potential hosts passing by. These hardy, blood-sucking arachnids are active year-round (although activity increases after the first of the year) and prefer moist, warm locations. 

Ticks don’t actually cause diseases themselves but can be vectors of various human and animal diseases in their nymph and adult forms. In California especially, deer ticks have been known to transmit Lyme disease, caused by a bacterium. Although most research reports that only a small percentage of ticks are infected with the disease, it is always important to check for and remove ticks from yourself and your pet after a hike. There are several important precautions that should be taken to protect you and others from tick bites and the infections they may carry:
  • Wear long, light-colored pants and shirts that make locating ticks easier
  • Stay in the middle of trails to avoid brushing against vegetation
  • Check yourself and others periodically
  • Always thoroughly inspect pets and brush them after a hike
In the event of an attached tick, remove it immediately with a pair of tweezers. Be sure to attach the tweezers close to the head, and pull it out slowly. It is important not to leave any mouthpart in the skin as it may cause an infection. Do not use heat or chemicals to remove the tick. Research suggests that it can take hours to days for a tick to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium. After removing the tick, you may want to consult a physician for antibiotic medication. Keep an eye on the bite location for a rash that resembles a “bulls-eye” and note any flu-like symptoms as they are indicators of Lyme disease.

With all this in mind, don’t let ticks prevent you from experiencing the beauty and serenity of the Puente Hills Preserve. Just stay aware, become educated, and be responsible while visiting the outdoors and enjoy!

For more information about ticks and Lyme disease transmission, visit or