K-Country doesn’t have a lot of things to worry about. Even bears aren’t very much of a threat. But Ticks are a pest that can cause serious issues, and are exceptionally common.
Where and when are ticks an issue?
Spring, in addition to the start of the mosquito season, is also prime tick season, which runs from late March to mid-June. Ticks are a member of the spider family, and while there are several kinds of ticks here, the most problematic one to people in K-Country is the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick. Smaller than a thumbtack head, these little dudes hang out on grasses and wait for an accommodating host to brush by. Normally, they like ungulates such as sheep, elk, deer, moose and goats, but coyotes, cougars, foxes, humans and rodents are also targets. They are attracted by carbon dioxide like mosquitos, and will move through grasses to sedentary potential hosts.
Be most concerned about the risk of encountering ticks when the following boxes are “ticked”:
- An area with lots of sheep, deer or other ungulates. You may not see the critters, so look for tracks;
- Anywhere with lots of grasses, and the taller, the more problematic;
- Early spring snow free areas, especially south facing slopes.
Just some of the tick-y places in K-Country include Yamnuska, Sibbald, the Sheep Valley, many places in the Bow Valley and the tops of lower mountains like Powderface, Jumpingpound and others.
What happens if a tick gets on you?
Once they grab on to you, they crawl around for a while looking for warm skin, preferably with lots of hair to hide in (yes, they like the groin area). Once they find it, they chomp down, burying their mouth parts in your skin, and start sucking out blood just like mosquitos. Only they hang on and bloat up (pictured above), increasing their size by 5 or 10 times. Once they get enough blood, they drop off, lay eggs and die.
While they’re chewing on you, ticks can transmit disease. Different ticks in Alberta can pass on different diseases, including encephalitis, typhus, Lyme disease, tick paralysis, tularemia and both Colorado and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Getting Lyme disease from a tick in K-Country is exceptionally uncommon (so far, Lyme cases are mostly courtesy of the Blacklegged Tick, which are pretty rare in K-Country), but the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick can readily transmit Spotted Fever.
What do you do about ticks on you?
First: while some ticks are worse than others and carry different diseases than others, when one is on you: a tick’s a tick.
It’s best to get it off quickly. Getting them off soon after they get on you isn’t that hard, because they’re not fast and take a while to find a place to chomp down.
If you’re being bitten, don’t try to burn it or squish it. Instead, use a pair of tweezers to grab the head and gently pull it out. Then put on some antiseptic (such as hand sanitizer) to kill any leftover nasties.
If you find a tick on yourself or a pet, as of 2022, Alberta Health asks you report it in the eTick app. You’ll take a photo and upload it to the app. The photo will result in identification of the tick, which you’ll get via e-mail. If it’s a Blacklegged tick, you’ll be asked to submit it (dead or alive) for testing as part of a tick surveillance program. Ticks you submit will be tested to see if they carry the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that can cause Lyme disease in humans. Results of this program will help Alberta Health better understand the risk of Lyme disease in Alberta. In 2018, some 15% of the submitted Blacklegged Ticks had the bacteria. The eTick app maps all tick reports, so you can also see where ticks have been reported.
Preventing tick bites
Prevention is easier. Wear long pants through till the end of June, and either wear gaiters or tuck your pants in your socks. Avoid walking through the middle of grassy meadows, or lounging in them over lunch. Don’t run bare arms through deep grasses. Check yourself and your hiking partners over at the end of the day looking for ticks attached to your pants, and do so before you get into your car. Shower after hiking. DEET keeps ticks as well as mosquitos away. And keep ticks at bay.
Learn more ways to keep yourself safe in K-Country here!