With the highs consistently breaking into 80s and the constant threat of a scattered afternoon thunderstorm, summer has undoubtedly arrived in Louisville. Despite the heat, folks are getting out of the house and attending live music events, visiting splash parks and hiking along trails in Louisville’s parks.
But in the warm humidity, a familiar fiend has returned to the tall grasses that brush over the knees of unsuspecting hikers: the tick. The eight-legged parasite thrives in the warm, humid environment of Kentucky, which allows tick larvae to hatch every summer.
Of the seven species of ticks that the Centers for Disease Control warns about on its website (www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html), five species can live in the metropolitan Louisville area. Ticks are arachnids, the same taxonomic class as spiders, scorpions and mites.
Ticks use a method to feed on their host that is similar to the way a person drinks the milk from a raw coconut. The creatures cut a hole through a layer of the host’s skin and insert their hypostome, a straw-like structure that allows the tick to drink the blood it uses to survive and reproduce.
It’s this hypostome that makes tick removal so difficult. Because the structure is so strongly embedded within the host animal, a tick’s body can be removed, while the head and the hypostome stay attached.
To remove ticks, the CDC recommends using “a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.” The CDC then instructs you to pull directly upwards to ideally remove the entire tick with its hypostome still attached.
If the hypostome stays lodged in your skin, you should try to remove it; however, if the mouth proves stubborn, the CDC encourages you to leave the hypostome and let the surrounding skin heal around it.
Note: Matches, lighters and nail polish are nowhere in the suggested removal methods — so keep those out of your first aid kit.
By no means should you avoid spending an afternoon in one of Louisville’s many parks for fear of ticks. The CDC offers several precautions to help hikers, bikers and anyone who loves the outdoors stay safe from ticks and any diseases they may carry.
First, stay near the middle of paths and trails. Ticks often perch on the upper reaches of tall grasses and shrubs where they can attach to anything that brushes past them.
Sometimes it is impossible to avoid these areas, but you still need to protect yourself from ticks. Wearing long pants is always a great option, but many people shudder at the thought of extra clothing during hot summer months.
To recover the protection you lose when you put on a pair of shorts, the CDC encourages hikers to apply a bug spray containing at least 20 percent DEET to repel the parasites.
And after any hike, be sure to carefully check your entire body for ticks, and check any children or pets who accompanied you.
Staying mindful of these tips will keep you safe as you spend time hiking or riding the many trails throughout the Louisville area.
More information about ticks can be found at www.cdc.gov/ticks/
The Parklands of Floyds Fork is one of the nation’s largest new urban parks projects and is a donor-supported public park. Under construction now and opening in phases, it is a system of four new parks, connected by a park drive, world-class trail system and the Louisville Loop. 21st Century Parks is the nonprofit responsible for the development and long-term management of The Parklands. Avery Jones is a summer intern at 21st Century Parks, participating in the Yale Bulldog Program in Louisville. You can find out more about The Parklands and how to support the project through membership atwww.theparklands.org or by calling 502-584-0350.