A Home Lesson in Ticks

Back last year, when I first started my groundie job with Plateau, I got my first tick. Since then, there have been many bouts of ticks at work and lots of people relaying horror stories of their grass tick infestations. However, to date, Mat has not come back with any thank goodness.

This morning I was having my shower when the strange itch/sore spot (something I only noticed half consciously last night) made me look down to find, shock horror, I had another tick!

Eeuw! Slight panic before I realised Mat was at work and I would have to deal with this all by myself.

It was only a small tick, no bigger than 2mm, but dark in colour and rounded looking; not like the last one that was about 4mm wide, grey and flat. I wondered if this was perhaps an ominous “grass tick” that people keep going on about, that usually come in packs of anything from five to a hundred. I immediately began hunting for more but satisfied myself that this guy was a lone ranger.

I decided to finish my shower, then once dry and armed with a pair of tweezers, a razor (I’ve been told that the best way of getting rid of grass ticks is razoring them) and some toilet roll, I sat down on the bed and plucked up the courage to tackle the extraction. I opted for the tweezers first as the tick was sticking out enough to get a good purchase. I quickly grabbed the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulled it firmly, straight out.

Well that was easy. It had made a little click noise as it came loose and it hadn’t hurt at all. I popped the tick into a handful of toilet paper and then took a closer look. It was dark grey, fairly round and on close inspection I could see the tips of it’s legs and what I assume were mouth parts appearing from what must have been it’s head. It then began to move and started to make it’s way across the toilet paper, seemingly unaffected by the extraction.

This was a good thing, I thought. My biggest worry was that I might leave some bits of it behind in my skin but I was satisfied that I had performed a clean removal. It wasn’t as hard as I had thought it would be (of course my previous experience had helped lots) and when I looked down at my skin where the tick had been I could barely make out a mark.

After explaining to the tick I was very sorry but would have to kill it for its sins, I quickly squashed it in the paper using the tweezers. It occurred to me at this point that I should probably have tried to take a picture before squashing it so I could post it here to illustrate my story. However, the tick was now well and truly mangled so I had no option but to just flush it down the toilet.

Job well done, I thought to myself, and then went to the computer to google Australian ticks. After asking various Aussies about the difference between the varieties all I had come away with was: grass ticks are small and brown, less than 1mm and you’re normally host to several of the things at once; normal ticks or shellbacks are the bigger ones, 4mm plus, like you get on cats and dogs in the UK; then there are paralysis ticks which are similar to grass ticks but instead of just itching like mad they cause you to be drowsy and ill (they can kill dogs and cats if not spotted quickly enough).

It turns out there are several different species of tick, all looking fairly similar, but which all have four life cycles: egg, larval stage (less than 1.5mm, 6 legs and often referred to as the “grass tick”), nymph stage (no more than match head size but with 8 legs) and adult (the big fat ticks up to 1cm that I am used to in the UK and are commonly seen on hedgehogs etc).

I found this website by far the most informative in distinguishing the common types whereas a lot of other sites I found were informative but without pictures. As ticks vary so much in size and shape depending on what growth stage they are at and how much blood they have engorged differentiation is still hard. Although I studied mine at the time, I can’t now recall how many legs it had or the detailed shape and colour, so am not much further forward, though from the size I would guess it was a nymph.

It appears I used the correct method for removal as the majority of sites I read recommend pulling the tick out while it is still alive, as opposed to burning it or using chemicals first. Saying this, I only had my flat headed eyebrow tweezers instead of a pair with the recommended fine points, but they still did the job. More common advice for “grass ticks” or the larvae is, if you have a large infestation, to soak for half an hour in a bath containing one cup of bicarbonate of soda before scraping them off (hence the razor I guess).

One thing I did not do was to keep my tick! Apparently they can cause delayed illness up to four weeks later so unless you are experienced in tick identification it is a good idea to jar it in case you need to find out more at a later stage. Although not common, as well as paralysis, ticks can spread illnesses like Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease.

In summary, ticks are common parasites and although have the potential to be harmful to humans, are nothing to be too concerned about providing you are aware of the facts.

For interest I have added this picture to demonstrate what a “grass tick” infestation can look like:

Image taken from chasingbirds photostream on flickr.com
Image taken from chasingbirds' photostream on flickr.com
This entry was posted in Australian Flora & Fauna, Personal, Pictures. Bookmark the permalink.