Tick specialists from Cornell Cooperative Extension share tips for ticks

While most of us go outside and take precautions to avoid ticks, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County employee Tamson Yeh does the opposite.

Ms. Yeh is the turf and land management specialist for CCE and is responsible for surveying Suffolk County properties for ticks and rodents. She takes a lightly colored “flag” or piece of cloth-like material, and runs it over anywhere she thinks a tick might be. Then, she inspects the cloth and identifies the type of tick, whether it is male or female, and its stage in its life cycle.

She usually starts her day surveying golf courses at about 5 a.m., to beat the early morning golfers, and she searches for rodents, diseases, localized dry spots, weeds and insects. She does this every week from about mid-March through November.

There are three types of ticks on Long Island: the blacklegged tick, commonly known as the deer tick, the lone star tick and the American dog tick. The deer tick is the only species known to carry Lyme disease, but all three carry multiple diseases. Dog ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and multiple bites from lone star ticks can lead to alpha-gal allergy, an allergic reaction to red meat.

“It’s about identifying the pest, finding out where the pests are getting in, and trying exclude them other than a spray approach,” Ms. Yeh said. Suffolk County has a pesticide phase out, so any pesticide usage has to be approved by a committee.

If Ms. Yeh doesn’t have any site visits, she works on grants, writing up articles for in-house news letters and education programs.

“If there was nobody doing this kind of work, you wouldn’t know what areas had ticks,” she said. “People might go through places thinking that they were safe.”

CCE works to educate people on how to treat ticks on their own properties, and Ms. Yeh shares her 20 years of experience with others. One of the most important things to consider when treating ticks on personal property is the species of ticks that are present.

Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Tamson Yeh flagging for ticks. (Rachel Siford photo)

“So many people are so terrified of ticks, they are just blanket treating their properties, and that might not be the most effective way to go,” she said. “You also need to know where the ticks are clustered, so if you are going to treat, you need to know where to treat.”

She also said that where there are rodents, there are ticks. Simple things like cleaning up birdseed can help prevent ticks on properties, because when chipmunks and squirrels are attracted to an area, ticks will follow.

Moses Cucura, entomologist at Suffolk County Vector Control, said that people can perform “flagging” by running a lightly colored sheet or old T-shirt across their property to determine where ticks may be and what type are present.

“It depends on the species and if they are an adult or a nymph,” he said about treating ticks at home. “Some products work excellent on adults, but do almost nothing on nymphs.”

He also said that there is no testing done on the bulk of repellents found on shelves, so he encourages people to visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to find a repellent that has been tested and reviewed.

Mr. Cucura recommended vegetation management on personal properties, like leaf litter removal. Keeping bushes, trees and shrubs properly pruned is also important, because it helps with airflow, creating a drier environment which is poorer for deer ticks.

Lone star ticks are less sensitive to drying out and are much more aggressive than deer ticks. They will actually chase a host for more than 60 feet, while a deer tick will only chase for about two to three feet.

Ms. Yeh got into working with CCE by chance while working on her master’s in animal and veterinary science. She took a job for extra money in the plant science department one summer.

“I got hired there, and I liked what I did so much that I ended up getting a doctorate in plant science,” Ms. Yeh said.

When she was looking for a permanent job, she started working for CCE in Nassau County and stayed there for about nine years. She then transferred to Suffolk County and has been working here for the past 11 years.

She urges people to come to CCE with questions because it is a much more reliable source than the internet.

“My favorite part is working with extension people. They’re really just so cool and so knowledgeable,” she said.

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Top photo caption: Ticks captured during the flagging process. (Rachel Siford photo)