Natural Approaches to Tick Control
Greenfield Environmental Commission, Feb 2015.
The early results we’ve received on an Environmental Action Survey (Dec 2014) all named the hazard of ticks as a big concern. Black-legged ticks living in the margins of our yards can carry Lyme disease and other dangerous infections. Because of that concern, we’ve started searching for environmentally friendly ways to deal with ticks. Ticks are increasingly common in the northeast. Deer, like humans, are probably only an accidental host to black-legged ticks. There are two natural approaches to dealing with ticks suggested in current literature: Predators that eat ticks or tick-carrying animals, and hosting a wide Variety of animals for ticks to feed on, including those not infected by Lyme disease.
Predators: One commonly suggested tick-eater is Guinea fowl (1). They can wander the lawn and the woods eating small animals, including ticks they find on twigs and tall grass. To be effective, the birds need to range freely, but Guinea fowl are somewhat wild and often go visiting, never to return home. And their raucous noise often makes them unwelcome in neighborhoods. So, Guinea fowl may eat many ticks, but they weren’t satisfactory to some land-owners who tried using them.
Natural predators such as hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, snakes, and weasels, all eat small rodents, and the ticks on them (2). It has been observed that one snake can consume 450 ticks in a day by eating tick-infested small animals. Encouraging natural predators to visit our yards by keeping house-pets leashed or indoors may reduce tick populations.
Animal variety: Hosting a wide range of animal species that ticks will feed on is another suggested approach (3). Researchers have found that the ticks don’t infect all animals with Lyme disease. White-footed deer mice can infect ticks with Lyme disease but many other species that ticks may bite appear not to harbor the disease. Keeping many kinds of animals in the neighborhood can offer ticks other species to bite, reducing the chance that a tick that bites us will be infected. Many species can be encouraged by maintaining wildlife corridors. Uninterrupted woodlands allow birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to move around to feed or breed. A tick needs a blood meal to complete its life cycle but it could do so without becoming infected by Lyme disease. Greenfield has many wildlife corridors and residents are reporting an encouraging range of animal species to us. This variety may keep many of our local ticks free of Lyme disease.
We don’t think the natural approaches eliminate all risk to our families, but we can reduce risk by keeping the environment healthy. Environmental Commission members can be contacted through the Town website.
Sources: (1)(“Eight Ways to Fight Back Against Ticks…”, Tilly’s Nest.com, July 2013), (2) (Foley, James A., Aug 2013, Timber Rattlesnakes Help Control the Spread of Lyme Disease), (3) (Ostfeld and Keesing, “Biodiversity and Disease Risk: the Case of Lyme Disease”, Conservation Biology Oct 1999).