Will a harsh winter kill ticks?

A warm winter day will awaken ticks from hibernation -- and they'll be looking for a host

tick generic
Credit: WHTM

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — This winter’s frigid temperatures may be killing off a portion of the tick population, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

The report cites studies that show how freezing temperatures can decrease the tick population by about 20 percent.

Mike Hutchinson, who studies ticks for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said that will at least make a dent — however small — in decreasing the bug’s population.

“They can survive the cold winters but if you get a long stretch where the temperatures are very low, you will have more ticks die off.”

He said the tiny insects thrive through the colder months because they can easily find warm places to nest under leaves and soil. But he warned that a warm winter day will awaken them from hibernation.

“From December to March, there are a number of days where it will be above 40 degrees and the ticks will be questing, which means they’re looking for a host,” Hutchinson said.

State officials say Pennsylvania has led the nation with confirmed cases of Lyme disease. In 2016 alone, there were more than 12,000 cases from the black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick. That’s why the state Department of Health wants people checking for the bugs year-round.

“We really do recommend, no matter the season, that you take precautions to make sure that a tick doesn’t make you sick,” said April Hutcheson, Department of Health spokesperson.

Experts say the risk for Lyme disease is lowest from December to March. However, they say you should never let your guard down.

For more information on ticks and tick-borne diseases, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

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