Ticks are a Drag

July 8, 2009

TRADITIONAL BIOCONTROL by natural enemies is notably sparse for pesky tick species vectoring Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, brucellosis and other maladies of man and animal. Pesticide spraying selects for robust pesticide-resistant ticks. Hence, alternatives are needed. Recognizing reality, the USDA-CSREES through competitive grants is funding an international group developing a biological approach stimulating natural immunity.

Immunity via vaccines is more commonly associated with microbial diseases like polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, flu and yellow fever, not insects or arthropods like ticks. But Jose de la Fuente of Oklahoma State University and his international colleagues have a good track record with a widely used vaccine for cattle ticks (Boophilus spp.). By virtue of hosting fewer ticks, cattle with tick immunity have less of the diseases transmitted by ticks. The molecular biology is explained in journals like Veterinary Research Communications.

While this is all well and good for cattle ranchers, TICK DRAGS are a non-chemical home alternative to rid yards and grassy areas of ticks potentially transmitting Lyme and other diseases to cats, dogs and people. Tick drags consist of a piece of white flannel cloth with an attached handle or rope for dragging across grass and other low vegetation to capture ticks.

Tick drags were originally developed as a research methodology for sampling tick populations. Rincon-Vitova co-founder Everett “Deke” Dietrick, an astute applied ecologist, played a role in the transformation of tick drags from research methodology to practical home remedy. Many years ago at an Entomological Society of America annual meeting in Boston, a very frustrated researcher was complaining that the white flannel tick drag removed too many ticks during the first sweep and not enough ticks were left to get statistically significant numbers for his pesticide tests. Deke raised his hand and asked if his daughter in Texas could “repurpose” the tick drag as a backyard control device. The researcher said yes. Deke’s Q&A became part of my reporting of the ESA annual meeting, and the news spread rapidly.