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Winter Ticks Remain a Concern

Jennifer Smith

Posted on February 11 2019

Last week’s single-digit temperatures might have lulled many Upper Cape residents into a false sense of security about the level of risk they face from disease-carrying ticks, according to Larry Dapsis, entomologist at Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and coordinator of the Barnstable County Tick Project.

“The hard freeze in recent weeks did nothing to the tick population. People should remain vigilant,” Mr. Dapsis said Tuesday, February 5.

During periods of very low humidity, ticks will burrow into leaf litter to stay hydrated and will not hunt, but these periods are extremely rare on Cape Cod, he said.

“Tick-borne diseases are a health crisis on the Cape and the islands, and I am on point in Barnstable County for the problem,” he said. “Ticks are active here year-round. It’s really, really cold other places, and ticks don’t care. Wisconsin had temperatures of minus-25 degrees Fahrenheit recently, and it still has an endemic population of deer ticks.”

Ticks synthesize a chemical called glycerol, which is similar to antifreeze in a car, and prevents them from freezing and suffering cell damage, he said.

Advice for preventing tick bites in the winter months is similar to that for the other seasons.

“Daily tick checks and treating your clothing and footwear with permethrin, which kills ticks,” Mr. Dapsis said.

Partly because of climate change, tick populations are moving north from the US into the Canadian provinces, where tick-borne illnesses had previously been infrequent. Animals such as wild turkeys, rodents, rabbits, deer and dogs carry ticks.

Deer ticks, the most populous type on Cape Cod, have been vectors for several illnesses on the Cape, including Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, relapsing fever and Powassan virus.

“There is also the American dog tick, which is more of a nuisance and a vector for only a few diseases right now,” Mr. Dapsis said.

An emerging threat is the lone star tick that has become an issue over the past few years in Falmouth, especially along the Shining Sea Bikeway.

Barnstable County recently released a new resource to promote tick education in the region. A 10-part series of education videos called “Tickology” is available on YouTube and at

Individual episodes range in length from six to 14 minutes and in topic from tick identification and tick-borne diseases to clothing treatment and pet protection. One video focuses on the lone star tick. Another touches on facts and fiction of tick-repellent products. There are also videos on removing ticks safely and submitting ticks for testing.