Ticks are out there questing, and they’re looking for you

Betsy PriceCulture, Headlines


While 19 species of ticks have been identified in Delaware, three cause the most number of infections with Lyme or another disease. Graphic from Delaware Tick Program.

Ticks don’t fly, drop or hop onto people.

For the most part, they perch in undergrowth, with two of their eight legs extended, hoping to hitch a ride on your clothes as you walk  by.

It’s called questing, and once they’ve attached themselves to a host, they crawl their way into the perfect spot for a bloody meal.

Those details popped up during the first part of a daylong “Lyme Aware Delaware” Conference Friday at the Lewes Library.

Sponsored by Beebe Hospital, it had 400 participants online and in person hearing the latest information from Delaware officials as well as experts from Johns Hopkins, Yale, Columbia and Tulane Universities. 

Many of the attendees were earning continuing credits for their jobs.

The day started focused on Delaware and expanded into sessions on the latest national information about antibiotic use, testing, rashes and more.

The topic is pertinent in Delaware because ticks carry Lyme disease and despite being small geographically, the state consistently ranks in the top 10 in the country for the number of diagnosed cases, said Dr. Ashley Kennedy of the Delaware Tick Program.

New Castle County often ranks in the top 6 counties in the country with the highest number of cases.

“Considering what a small state we are, we really do shoulder an outsized share of the national tick borne disease burden,” Kennedy said.

Her program tries to track where ticks are found, educate the public about them, and investigate tick management and control measures.

Tick dragging

To do that, the staff routinely goes tick dragging.

That involves pulling what looks like a white flag through the underbrush near paths at 20 sites in Delaware, including state parks, state wildlife areas, state forests and national wildlife areas, up and down the state.

They also trap and search small animals for ticks.

The department collects the ticks and tries to identify which species they are and what stage they are in. Those stages include larval, nymphal and adult.

Larval ticks are the least likely to transmit an illness because they have only fed on one host. Nymphal ticks have fed on two.

Adult ticks found on humans and animals usually are feeding for the third and final time.

They are most dangerous to humans because they are the most likely to picked up and pass a disease on while they are feeding, Kennedy said.

Delaware has 19 kinds of ticks, but the state focuses most on 5: the blacklegged tick, formerly known as the deer tick; the lone star tick; the American dog tick; the Gulf Coast tick; and the longhorned tick.

Of those, the lone star tick accounts for 97% of the ticks that the state has collected by dragging vegetation.

Those ticks are more common in the southern part of Delaware, while blacklegged and American dog ticks are more common in northern New Castle County.

Kennedy and others said that the best way to avoid ticks is to dress in light-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants, with pants tucked into light-colored socks when walking through the woods. Light colors make it easier to spot ticks, they said.

They advised people on paths or trails to stay in the middle of the path and avoid vegetation along the sides, if possible.


The Delaware Tick Program invites members of the public to upload photos of ticks that they have been bitten by — after the tick is removed.

The Delaware Tick Program, established in 2014 didn’t go into effect until 2019, Kennedy said.

Its website not only provides information about ticks, but also invites the public to send in photos of ticks they have been exposed to. 

Knowing what kind of tick bit a person can be valuable information when it comes to treatment, she said.

The department asks members of the public to remove the tick – the sooner the better – and upload clear photos of it to their site using a form here

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When one summer camp nurse said she had been attaching any ticks she found to adhesive tape, but didn’t think the state would be able to see the bug, Kennedy said she was correct.

Most of what they get are photos of the ticks in a clear plastic bag, she said.

Veterinarians and others also use the service, she said.

So far, 175 people have uploaded 400 photos. 

One of the things the program has learned, she said, is that people often misidentify ticks and also underestimate the amount of time that the tick may have been attached.








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