By Gwendolyn Craig
Lee Ann Sporn is one of the few people on earth who actually hopes to see ticks.
And unfortunately this year, they aren’t biting, at least not as much.
Sporn, a professor at Paul Smith’s College, collects ticks around the Adirondacks to study their population density. She also sends them drowned in alcohol to the state Department of Health, where the arachnids will be tested to see what types of disease-causing agents they might be carrying. Results are then reported to county health departments.
Ticks have a two-year boom and bust cycle and even years, Sporn said, their density is a little bit lower. Thats no reason to get complacent, Sporn warned.
“The risk to humans and pets is constantly increasing and is really quite high,” Sporn said, about recreating in the Adirondacks and the North Country. “One problem is people visit the Adirondack Park and often from areas where tick density is very high. … They sort of come here thinking this is a tick-free area. Historically it was, but that has really, really changed.”
A warming climate has led to shorter winters in the Adirondacks, and thats likely one of the reasons ticks are on the rise in the area, Sporn said. Changes in land use and an increase of tick-carrying hosts, like deer, could also add to the recipe for more ticks.
On June 19, however, the ticks weren’t biting as much as Sporn hoped.
Wearing white head-to-toe in order to better see the tiny critters if they hitch a ride, Sporn walked through the forest understory practically glowing. She trailed a white drop cloth looking like the train of a bride’s wedding gown, pausing every 20 paces or so to examine it for poppy-seed-sized crawlers.
“It’s the perfect place,” she said, brushing past bright green ferns, leaf litter crunching beneath her feet. “It’s really the perfect day, calm and humid and warm and dry. … The fact that we’re not seeing any is just incredible.”
Sporn snatched up a few adult ticks with tweezers and put them in her vial of alcohol for testing. Ticks in the Adirondacks carry a number of microbes that cause different illnesses.
Lyme disease continues to be the biggest culprit, and is increasing in the Adirondacks and across the state. But Sporn said the North Country is also seeing more cases of anaplasmosis, another tick-borne illness. Anaplasmosis is treatable, but if left untreated, can cause respiratory failure and other severe health complications.
Sporn and the state Health Department are urging the public to take precautions against tick bites.
Some of those precautions include wearing light-colored clothing to better see ticks, tucking socks into pants, using bug spray or permethrin-treated clothing and doing regular tick checks.