Ticks are a menace!
They are blood sucking insects that bite and attach themselves to warm blooded mammals including humans. Often ticks are associated with the damper moorlands of the West Highlands and are usually considered to be active during the Summer months. This year however, I personally have already sustained three tick bites all of which were in Fife. Be warned, they are out there!!
Ticks vary in size depending upon which stage of their life cycle they are at and may be no larger than a speck of dirt on your skin. Unlike midges and other biting insects, they bite into skin and then remain in situ whilst feeding and growing fatter! Not only is that a horrid concept (something attached to your skin, feeding on your blood) but they can also carry disease, the most prominent one being Lyme Disease. If not treated with antibiotics lyme disease can have serious consequences.
The good news is that only a minority of ticks (5% according to SWT) carry lyme disease so the chances that the tick that you have just found attached to your arm is infected is actually quite low. The second piece of good news is that in general a tick needs to be attached to you for some time (usually about 24 hours) before it infects you. This means that prompt removal of ticks will reduce your chances of contracting lyme disease from a tick bite.
There are many myths and old wife’s tales on how to remove ticks. Some of which are considered to be down right dangerous and encourage ticks to regurgitate their stomach contents into the bite. Take the time to learn how to safely remove a tick.
The easiest way to remove a tick is with a specialist tool designed for the job. Here are a few examples of tick removers. My preferred option is the Life Systems tick tweezers. These have a very fine hook which you need to carefully slide under the tick’s body taking care not to squeeze the tick. Gently lift the tick so that it is “dangling in mid air” with only its mouth against the skin, and the hook is between the skin and the bulk of the tick without squeezing it. A firm gentle tug with the tweezers then cleanly removes the tick from the skin. It is important to avoid squeezing / squashing the tick during the process.
Other options are :
Compact version of Life Systems Tick Tweezers which can be attached to a key ring or zip pull
Plastic tick hooks which are widely available and usually come in two different sizes. However I personally find that these are not as easy to use as the metal tweezers as the plastic hook is quite thick and difficult to slide under the tick’s body, especially with small ticks.
Tick puller – although I have one of these I have not yet tried using it. Like the above tick hooks, the plastic hook appears to be much less finer than the metallic tweezers and I suspect will not be as easy to use.
Other remover tools are available and a Google search will bring up plenty of options. If using ordinary tweezers they must have a fine point that can be slid under the tick’s body without squeezing it (many tweezers have a broad flat tip). Do not try techniques such as burning off with a cigarette, applying oils or other chemicals.
Please note, I have no affiliation to Life Systems I just think that from my experience of many tick bites that their product is the best on the market.
After a tick bite, keep an eye on the site of the bite for a “bulls-eye rash” and also any other possible symptoms of lyme disease. Consult your GP promptly if you suspect lyme disease.
For good advice on dealing with ticks and lyme disease please see
Health Protection Scotland (links to downloadable leaflets)
Stay away from unreliable information sources. If in any doubt talk to a health care professional.
For a particularly gruesome photo of a tick have a look at this picture from the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
Be tick and lyme disease aware