Friday, June 8, 2012

Blacklegged Ticks in Ottawa!

Last weekend I decided to explore the Mer Bleue Conservation Area.  We hit up trail 50/51, starting at P20 and looped around counter-clockwise towards P23.  This section of trail wasn't too challenging, and would be suitable for an easy mountain biking excursion.  Once we crossed over Dolman Ridge rd the trail heads down a steep slope.  A sign warned us that the path ahead could be "seasonally wet", but since we hadn't had much rain in a while it didn't concern me.  Apparently I was wrong.  After decending the slope we found ourselves in serious muck, and there didn't appear to be much of a maintained trail - the area was totally overgrown.  If it weren't for the little trail marker signs I would have believed we had strayed off the path somehow.  With no sign of improved conditions ahead, we decided to return up the hill and doubled back the way we came, in spite of my preference for hiking loops.

We stopped for a snack at P23, at which point I discovered that I had acquired a friend while navigating the long grasses at the bottom of the ridge.  I first learned about deer ticks while I was doing an internship in Missouri.  After hiking in the woods the lady I was staying with insisted that we conduct a tick check.  "Tick check?" I puzzled.  Ticks are arachnids, the same class that spiders belong to.  They have eight legs, and two distinct body sections: a tiny head, and a large, flat, shiny abdomen. Blacklegged Ticks, Ixodes scapularis, are endemic to Eastern North America. They have a limited range in Canada, and are found in only the southern most regions of the country.  Or so I thought.  I had never heard of them until I went to Missouri.  When I started doing field work in the Long Point area of Ontario, I was reacquainted with them, as there are many in that area.  They were abundant in St. Lawrence Islands National Park as well.  Although the Public Health Agency of Canada doesn't list Ottawa as an established tick population, I can assure you, they're here!

So why do I care that blacklegged ticks have found their way to the Ottawa area?  Ticks are parasites, and these ticks in particular carry Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borellia burgdorferi.  Not all ticks carry the disease, and not all tick bites will result in transmission if the tick is carrying the bacterium.  The likelihood of disease transmission increases with the length of time the tick remains attached, which is why prompt and thorough tick checks (of yourself and your pets!) are advisable after returning from the field in areas where ticks are known or suspected to occur.  If you do find an attached tick, the safest removal method is to pull it out using tweezers as close to the skin as possible, without twisting or crushing the body of the tick.

Ironically, we chose to explore this trail in particular because the bog trail sounded too buggy.  In addition to my new eight-legged travel companion, this well  shaded trail was full of mosquitoes, so if you're bothered by that sort of thing, bug repellent is advisable if you are headed this way.  In addition to the biting insects, we came across a creek where it was sunny and warm, attracting many dragonflies and a number of six-spotted tiger beetles (Cicindela sexguttata)!

Where there are bugs, there are critters around to eat them.  Check out this little cutie we crossed paths with!  Even baby American Toads (Bufo americanus) look old and disgruntled :)