Ticks love me.
I mean they really love me. I’m not totally sure why. It seems they’re just more attracted to me…something about my smell or something? My friends even started calling me a “tick magnet,” which they think is hilarious (I’m not laughing).
The good news is that, over the years, I’ve developed an anti-tick strategy that would delight even those with extreme insectophobia. It’s taken some work, but I think I’ve perfected my techniques in tick bite prevention and I’ve learned that, with the right preparation and knowledge, you really don’t need to worry about these little buggers when traveling through our open spaces.
Here are my pro tips for preventing tick bites:
I’m totally kidding. Don’t let a tiny little insect deter you from enjoying the wonders of our open spaces. You can protect yourself against tick bites—you just need to know how (keep reading).
Ticks like moist environments, especially the younger ones called “nymphs” (which are also the ones most likely to harbor Lyme disease). In fact, nymphs can’t survive in environments with lower than 80 percent humidity for more than eight hours. Good to know, right? When you stop for a break on your next hike, pick a nice dry spot in the sun and be sure to bring some sunscreen.
If you’re a dog person and you enjoy our dog-friendly trails, you might be inviting more ticks into your life. Ticks like to hitchhike on dogs, so be sure to give Fido a good inspection when you get home from your hike and talk to your vet about the right tick treatment. Remember, ticks need to stay moist, so start by checking the moist areas of their bodies.
Ticks love my dog, Mesa, surprisingly even more than they love me. After a good romp through the grass, I find it easiest to put her in front of some heat (like a furnace vent, fireplace or sometimes I’ll even use a blow drier) to get the ticks to start moving in search of more moisture. After surfacing on her coat, I can easily pick them off and place them in a cup of soapy water. The soap makes them sink to the bottom and it’s then easy to dispose of them later on.
The younger ticks, the ones called “nymphs” I was talking about earlier, are really tiny…like really tiny! They can be as small as a poppy seed which can make them really hard to see. By wearing light-colored clothing, it will be easier for you to identify these little buggers and remove them before they can bite.
It may seem obvious, but keeping your skin covered prevents ticks from latching on. When the weather is cool enough, I’ll even take it one step further by tucking in my shirt (so professional) and my pants into my socks if I need to walk through tall grass. I know—nerd alert—but this prevents ticks from crawling underneath my clothing and has the added benefit of giving my wife a good laugh.
If possible, bring a new set of clothes to change into at the end of your hike. This might seem a bit overkill but if you want the added peace of mind, it’s a good idea. My wife and I always have a good chuckle changing our kids clothes in the trailhead parking lot, tickling them while looking for any ticks that might have snuck underneath their clothes. We don’t do it every time, but it’s a good habit to get into. And then when we get home, we wash these clothes in hot water and place them immediately in the dryer—ticks can’t take the heat and it’s the best way to ensure these little buggers (and poison oak oil) doesn’t escape into the house.
If you want to take things to the next level, there is an insecticide called permethrin available that is effective at preventing tick bites. I’ve never felt the need to use it as the precautions listed above have seemed like enough. Permethrin will kill ticks and has been found to be more effective than DEET-based products at preventing tick bites. If you’re wanting to take every measure available to prevent tick bites, then this is one to explore.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more