Header: A collection of ticks. Most are on their backs. The males (on the far left) have smaller mouthparts. Photo by Gordon Grigg.
Ticks are bad this season. Neighbours talk about getting three or four, even more, after working or a walk on their properties. There are various ways to manage ticks once they are attached. A few years ago we adopted a method suggested by a doctor at Royal Brisbane Hospital and found it very easy and successful. You simply give the tick a couple of squirts with Aerostart and the tick dies within a few seconds. Very convenient!
The sooner you apply Aerostart, the better. Try not to touch or poke the tick as this will reduce the amount of material that the tick injects into your body. If a tick is squeezed, as can happen if you try to remove a tick using fingers or normal tweezers, its gut and salivary contents can be pushed into its host. This can transmit foreign proteins and pathogens (if present) from the tick to the host.
After killing a tick using Aerostart, there is no urgency to remove it. Larger ticks can be removed (once they are dead) by using ne forceps to grasp the tick by its ‘beak’, where it enters the skin. The trick is to avoid squeezing the tick’s body. Smaller ticks, such as those in their nymphal or larval stages, are nearly impossible to remove manually, so it is best to let these dead ticks just drop off.
Aerostart is sold for starting recalcitrant two-stroke motors and can be purchased at SupaCheap Auto and such places. Aerostart contains up to 60% gasoline and up to 30% ether and is extremely ammable so it is important to use it only in a well-ventilated place and well away from open flames or other ignition sources. Ether is also an anaesthetic and may cause drowsiness or dizziness if inhaled.
Aerostart is one ether-based product on the market being used to kill ticks. The risk of getting a bad reaction from ticks
is reduced when the tick is killed as soon as it is detected. Remember to never squeeze or irritate an attached tick.
Aerostart works very quickly because the ether dissolves the tick’s waxy cuticle and permeates the tick. Please note that Aerostart is an engine starter aerosol and is not approved for use on humans and repeated exposure may cause skin dryness or cracking, so please be careful if you decide to use Aerostart to kill ticks.
It’s only the female tick that sucks your blood. The males have a smaller rostrum (‘beak’) and you may find them crawling over you looking for a female with which to mate, or to feed on!
The life cycle varies a bit between years but, in general, tiny larvae (pinhead size, with 6 legs) hatch from eggs in late summer/autumn. After their first feed they moult to a nymph (8 legs) and moult again after a second feed to become an adult. In summer, fully fed females fall off their host and can lay up to 6000 eggs in leaf litter or in dense foliage. If you are unlucky enough to sit where these eggs have hatched, you may collect many dozen of the tiny, dark, tick larvae, all having their first feed. Aerostart is then magic; spray the affected area and kill the lot.
The Queensland Museum has a downloadable fact sheet which can be found easily on their website (but it advises killing ticks with an insecticide, which is very slow).
Article by Gordon Grigg Land for Wildlife member Brookfield, Brisbane
Modified from a note in the Moggill Creek Catchment Group’s newsletter, Summer 2011.
They say that prevention is better than a cure, so always remember to use some kind of insect repellent when doing bush regeneration work. Keep a couple of containers of your preferred insect repellent in various places – your car, house, shed or at work and try to get into a habit of using them everytime before you head out into bushland areas.
Unfortunately, just last month, a Land for Wildlife Officer contracted tick typhus (a Rickettsial bacteria infection) as a result of visiting a Land for Wildlife property and collecting several tiny ticks. He became terribly ill but thankfully his symptoms were correctly diagnosed and he is now recovering.
It is just another reminder to be mindful of ticks, especially during winter when larval and nymph stage ticks are actively feeding.