October 21, 2012 @ 8:48 AM


Folks in the northeastern U.S. Should make preparations to avoid a deer tick bite when heading outside this spring due to the stifling effects of lyme disease. Ecologists at the Cary Institute of Ecology Studies in N. Y envision this will be a record year for Lyme illness transmission, thanks to a surplus of bloodthirsty deer tick nymphs that will be active in May and June. The fender crop of ticks has nothing to do with the mild weather though. It's all about the acorns!

In 2010, oak trees throughout the northeast produced a huge number of acorns. Where there are acorns, there will surely be rodents. In 2011, populations of white-footed mice and eastern chipmunks increased due to the selection of acorns. So last year, we had a lot of white-footed mice running around our forests and many harbored the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme illness.

Deer tick larvae looking out for a blood meal had a plentiful supply of white-footed mice on which to feed, and plenty of last year's tick larvae settled down for the winter already harboring the Lyme illness bacteria in their bodies. Ecologists Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld and Dr. Charles D. Canham have been tracking this boom-bust pattern for years and noted that tracking acorn and mouse profusion has been a pretty trustworthy way to envision when Lyme disease transmission will spike and the signs of lyme disease.

Last autumn, acorn production dropped precipitously and left mice and chipmunks without much to eat. As a consequence, now in 2012, there were far less small mammals running around northeastern forests. This spring, when all the infected deer tick sprites wake up and start looking for another blood meal, they will have a much tougher time finding a mouse or chipmunk to feed on. And therefore they will latch onto the first warm-blooded animal that passes by which just might be you.

Remember, deer tick nymphs are tiny and about the size of a poppy seed. If you spend some time outdoors this spring and live in the northeast, make sure you do a thorough tick check after. Sprites will be active throughout the spring and summer, and May and June are when they are most active.