A Guide to Protect Yourself against Zebra Mussels and Ticks in Ontario this Summer
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If you’ve tried to enjoy your time on land or water at the cottage this year and been interrupted by pests, you’re not alone! We’re not talking about mosquitos– ticks and zebra mussels are on the rise in cottage country this season.
As irritating as they can be, it’s possible to still make the most of summer. Today, we’ll be sharing our experiences with ticks and zebra mussels at the cottage and giving you the best tips to protect yourself and your family.
You may have seen more ticks out this year at the cottage or at home, and you’re not alone. This year, experts are reporting a longer tick season and an increased tick population.
As homeowners in cottage country, we’ve had numerous encounters with ticks. This year alone, our family has already experienced ticks crawling and engorged on us, as well as our dog (gross!).
The fact is, ticks are part of the reality of living in Kawartha Lakes. The best thing we can do is know how to protect ourselves so we can learn to live with them.
If you’ve come across or been bitten by a tick outdoors, you might be wondering how to spot the differences between dog and deer ticks.
Here are a few tips to spot the difference between tick species:
Are quite small and can be difficult to see. They range from the size of a poppy seed to the size of a sesame seed (or even smaller)! However, they become larger and easier to spot when they have become engorged.
Their bodies are reddish-brown with brown legs. You’ll usually find deer ticks in forest or wooded areas, however, they can inhabit other areas as well.
A major difference between deer and dog ticks is that deer ticks are far more likely to transmit Lyme disease to humans or animals. So knowing how to identify deer ticks is an extra step you can take to protect yourself and your family.
Are much larger than deer ticks, making them easier to see. They’re about ¼ of an inch long, and typically have brown and white bodies.
Did you know? An easy way to spot the difference between dog and deer ticks is to look for white markings on their back. Dog ticks have white markings on their back, whereas deer ticks do not.
Dog ticks can usually be found in grassy areas by trails or roads, by bodies of water, or marshy areas.
Use insect repellent or tick spray: When outdoors, use bug or tick spray. Before heading outside, apply an insect repellant spray with DEET or Picaridin to help repel ticks. A popular tick repellent that we sell at our store and we use is Ben’s Tick Repellent. In addition to bug or tick spray, we have also tried essential oils like eucalpytus and lemongrass while outdoors.
Wear protective clothing: Clothing can help protect you from ticks as well. When outdoors, wearing light-coloured clothing can help you spot ticks. Try to wear long pants and long sleeves when possible to protect your skin from tick exposure. When on a walk, we will wear long pants and pull our socks over our pant legs to keep our ankles protected as well.
When outdoors, stay on roads: As soon as Spring arrives, we walk our dog only on a leash and stay on the road. We don't go on the trails and we don't let him wander into long grass or old leaves.
Check once you come inside: After you and your family come inside after being outdoors, everyone should carefully check themselves for ticks. Aside from your arms, legs, and torso, remember to also check around your ears, knees, and hair. Don’t forget to check your pets too! Ticks can easily latch onto dogs and jump off onto someone else. That’s why a dog tick spray might also be a good option if you walk your dog outdoors frequently.
HOW TO REMOVE TICKS
If you’ve got a tick on you, don’t panic! It’s important to remove the tick immediately after you spot it.
Here’s the easiest and safest way to remove ticks in your skin:
1. Using tweezers, or a Tick Key, grasp the tick at the closest point to your skin.
2. Pull the tick straight out slowly yet firmly. Do not twist or squeeze the tick. Do not touch the tick with your bare hands.
3. Wash the area with soap and water and then rubbing alcohol to sanitize.
Once you’ve removed a tick, it’s important to dispose of it properly and carefully. To kill the tick safely, you can drown it in rubbing alcohol or freeze it for a few days. For extra safety, we put ticks in a resealable bag in the freezer and write the name of who it bit and the date.
Keep an eye on the bite area to make sure no symptoms or issues arise over the next few days. If you think the tick was attached to you for more than 24 hours, or you have concerning symptoms, health units recommend contacting your doctor or local pharmacy for further instructions.
Most Ontario health units no longer accept ticks for testing, so you may dispose of the tick once it’s dead. If you’re not sure what type of tick bit you and you’d like to identify it, try eTick.
Developed by a Canadian university, eTick is a free app where you can upload photos of ticks and an expert will identify the species for you.
Remember, the easiest way to protect yourself and your family from ticks is to be diligent and exercise caution.
Although they’re small in size, zebra mussels are easy to spot due to their distinct shell and large groupings.
Each zebra mussel measures approximately 1-2 inches long. Their shells have yellow and brown zigzag stripes. Zebra mussels grow in large groups, typically in shallow water with plenty of algae.
1. Wear swim shoes or flip flops in the water. Zebra mussels are razor sharp, and easily cause very deep cuts. If you come into contact with one, make sure you clean them well with rubbing alcohol and practice proper wound care. Our son got badly cut by one last year, and taking care of it properly was key. We’ve heard terrible stories of others who got cut on zebra mussels and didn’t care for them properly, resulting in badly infected wounds!
2. If you’re taking your boat out of the water and launching it into other lakes, be mindful. As zebra mussels are an invasive species, it’s important to not accidentally bring them into another body of water. Boaters should inspect any aquatic equipment for zebra mussels and wash the equipment down before using it in another body of water.
3. Keep your dock ladder upright and out of the water unless it’s in use. If left in the water, zebra mussels will quickly grow all over it. This has happened to us and we’ve had to use a power washer to remove them.
4. Keep boats lifted out of the water on their lifts. Similar to dock ladders, keep your boat on the lift when not in use to prevent colonies from growing on your boat.
5. When taking boats and docks out of the water in Fall, clean every surface off before storing. Proper cleaning and maintenance before storing ensures you’re removing any lingering zebra mussels.
It’s difficult to avoid pests like ticks and zebra mussels as they continue to expand across Ontario. With our tips, you’ll be able to enjoy your time outdoors this season while remaining cautious!