Better Watch Out for Deer Ticks This Holiday Season, Live Science

Better Watch Out for Deer Ticks This Holiday Season

By Mindy Weisberger 14 December 2015

This holiday season, you better watch out — for ticks. Unusually high fall temperatures in the northeastern United States have let blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also known as deer ticks, remain active later into December than usual.

This means that a visit to a Christmas tree farm could bring an unexpected encounter with a bloodsucking hitchhiker.

Adult ticks are normally at their most active during the spring and summer months, and their activity usually tapers off as cold weather arrives. But deer ticks «will continue to be [active] until temperatures are consistently below 40 degrees,» a representative from the New York State Department of Health told Live Science in an email. [Gross! Watch a Tick Bite in Action (Video)]

This means that Christmas tree shoppers in the Northeast may want to take extra precautions this year to avoid getting bitten. Walking through a shrubby landscape on the way to select a Christmas tree could expose people to the active ticks, said Richard Ostfeld, a senior scientist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

When it’s cold, ticks protect themselves by hiding in earth or under leaf litter, where they don’t pose a threat to people. But warmer weather makes it safe for them to go looking for something to bite, Ostfeld told Live Science. A hungry tick will leave warmth and safety behind to climb tall grasses, shrubs and brush that reach about 18 to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) high. This height perfectly positions the tick to reach a person’s leg, Ostfeld said.

Blacklegged ticks can carry a number of diseases. The most common disease that ticks around New York spread to people is Lyme disease, according to the New York State Department of Health.

The good news, Ostfeld told Live Science, is that the adult ticks that are active in winter are easier to spot and remove than their smaller nymph forms, which are more common in warmer months. Performing tick checks — on both clothing and bare skin — after walking through an area where ticks might be found is highly recommended, he added.

And although fresh-cut Christmas trees themselves can certainly play host to plenty of living things, with aphids and spiders emerging as the most common hitchhikers, they don’t generally hold ticks, Ostfeld told Live Science. Even this year, when ticks are unusually active, the trees «would be an unlikely place for the ticks to seek a host,» he said.

One reason for this is that ticks tend not to climb very far from the ground, Ostfeld said. Even if they did take up residence on a tree bound for someone’s living room, they would probably drop off or die long before the tree reached its destination, he said.

Overall, the risk of bug invaders riding a Christmas tree all the way into your living room is actually quite small, according to the Penn State Department of Entomology. Vigorous shaking is usually enough to dislodge any insect stowaways, though egg masses may have to be removed by hand.

Debunking a myth: Christmas tree tick danger

Posted: Dec 4, 2017 / 09:10 PM EST / Updated: Dec 4, 2017 / 09:10 PM EST

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Could you be bringing more than holiday spirit into your home when you opt for that real Christmas tree?

Many are concerned with warmer than usual temperature since Thanksgiving that ticks could be on your tree.

Color, type, and size, all things you are likely looking for in the perfect Christmas tree.

“I found the perfect tree. Charlie Brown would be proud.”

It’s what you’re not looking for that has some people worried.

“We have been asked are there ticks on the trees?”

Chip Ellms, who owns Ellms Family Farm, says that’s a question he’s gotten a lot this season.

Over the last two years, this farm was actually part of a joint study between Cornell Cooperative Extension and Agriculture and Markets to answer that very question.

“They have not found any yet on the farms that have been mowed and well kept,” Ellms said.

The good news is once you do find that perfect tree you won’t actually be bringing the ticks into your home it’s walking around out here in the field that you have to be careful about.

“It’s been a relatively mild year so farm,” Bryon Backenson, a research scientist with the Department of Health, said.

Backenson says the warmer weather is letting ticks survive a little longer into the season.

“People should take precautions. They should wear long pants and long sleeves, which is pretty much normal this particular time of year.”

He says you’ll only encounter ticks in the fields if you’re cutting your own tree. It is important to check yourself afterward.

“Check yourself over really well. And check areas you might not necessarily think about.”

If you do see any bugs on your tree, it’s likely an aphid, which can sometimes be mistaken for a tick.

“They are dark and are a little bit larger they have six legs they move pretty well.”

Backenson says the increased concern comes from a heightened awareness of Lyme disease in the Capital Region over the last 15 or 20 years.

“Since then more and more know somebody a family member or a friend who has Lyme disease. It makes people more aware of it.”

In case you’re still concerned, Ellms takes extra precautions.

“We shake them out and any spiders or bugs that may have settled in come flying out with the needles,” Ellms said.

Making sure there are no unwanted guests at Christmas this year.

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Ticks On Your Christmas Tree

Are you feeling in the festive spirit? Have you already purchased your Christmas Tree for pride of place in your home during the Holidays? For those of you that buy the artificial kind, this article may not be of great concern, but well worth a read so that you are in the know. But for those of you who enjoy the real thing and bring the outdoors inside with a real tree, then you might want to read the following:

Do real Christmas trees attract bugs?

Trees can be a cosy habitat for bugs, and anything that we bring from outside into our homes will come with the risk that there might just be a few hitchhiking critters on there.

See also:  Beetle Exterminators - Removal and Control, Anderson Pest Solutions

What kind of bugs are in Christmas trees?

Ticks are one type of bug that just loves to live within the branches of a Christmas tree. However, they are probably hanging out there for the winter to wait until the warmer months, so when you bring a tree into your home and place it in some warmth and comfort, ticks could be tricked into thinking that the spring has arrived early. This means they’ll wake up and start to become active, so it’s important that you treat your tree before bringing it into your home.

There’s nothing like the smell of an evergreen tree to get you in the holiday spirit. But when you bring a live or cut Christmas tree indoors, some of the insects that have called your Christmas tree home might be joining you for the holiday season. Here’s what you need to know about Christmas tree insects.

Should you spray your Christmas tree?

Aerosol pesticides can be flammable, so you should not spray your tree with them.

Having a live Christmas tree in your home during the holidays can greatly enhance your holiday atmosphere with the smells of pine and the natural beauty of a freshly cut tree. However, it is important to take steps to ensure that your tree stays fresh and fire safe while it is in your home. A fresh and well maintained Christmas tree will not only look good longer, but it will be less of a fire risk.

What should you do if your tree has ticks?

The main concern here is that ticks can carry and transmit Lyme disease, so if you discover your Christmas tree has a few ticks then you want to make sure they don’t pose any threat. If you find any on the floor surrounding your tree then simply vacuum them up and dispose of them safely, outside. They won’t live long on your tree, because the tree is no longer providing them with a food source, so you will probably find that the ones you find on the floor are already dead.

Remember, if your shopping for your own Christmas tree, then you are entering an environment where many ticks may be hiding out. Make sure you dress appropriately, covering up well to stop any ticks becoming attached to you and do a thorough tick check on your return home.

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’Tis the Season for . . . Ticks?

This holiday season has proved full of surprises. From the leaking roof to two fender benders in one day (ice-related and amazingly not my fault) to the exploding gingerbread (trust me – the oven will never be the same), life’s lesson plan this season seems stuck on “disaster” of the sort that’s only comical after bolting back a few cups of eggnog. It’s been a season of going with the flow, sometimes while clinging to an upside-down canoe.

Given the pattern, I really should have been prepared for anything from earthquakes to temporary paralysis. Nevertheless, I was rendered nearly speechless when I crawled under the Christmas tree to add water, and I found the floor underneath the tree littered with what appeared to be ticks. There were dozens of them. Meandering around, looking bewildered and hungry, slowly spreading out across the living room. Ticks . . . you gotta be kidding me!

I wish I had a photo to show you, but frankly I pulled out the vacuum cleaner faster than Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral. And then I reached for the tick spray and gave that tree the dose of a lifetime. In a couple of days, my house would be full-to-bursting with houseguests, and my organic sensibilities were overrun by the fear of spreading a little Lyme Disease with my Christmas cheer!

The next day—after one more pass with the vacuum—the problem seemed to be under control, but it was quite a while before I found the time to face (and to learn about) what had happened. I’d never heard of ticks being in a Christmas tree, but, as my life has proved over and over, anything’s possible.

Meet the Cinara Aphid

Before you become infected with my panic and throw your Christmas tree on the curb, I’d better hurry up and clue you in on the punch line – it turns out they weren’t ticks at all. In fact:

    • Ticks don’t live in trees, and they don’t lay eggs in trees. They dehydrate too easily, so they stay closer to the moist ground. They aren’t found in Christmas trees, period. But they can lay dormant in piles of leaves and survive the winter.
    • Ticks need live animal hosts, so it would be impossible for them to multiply and infest a tree without a food source. It doesn’t fit with their life cycle or habitat.
  • Ticks spread by clinging to and falling off hosts – they don’t swarm or form colonies. A common misconception is that ticks jump from one host to the next, but that’s simply not true. They actually use their third and fourth pairs of legs to stick to one surface (which could be a leaf, for instance), and stretch their first pair of legs, always ready to latch on to the host (which, unfortunately, could be your dog).

While tree growers look for infestation, it can be difficult to spot on a large farm.

So what CAN multiply and infest a tree? Cinara aphids, also known as Conifer aphids, that’s what. Here are a few facts about the little critters:

    • They’re harmless. That’s right, harmless. They feed on trees, not animals, and they don’t bite or carry diseases. For us humans, they’re nothing more than a nuisance.
    • As I can testify, they look almost exactly like ticks, with their brownish-black, flat, round bodies and short legs. The dead giveaway, though, is that Cinara aphids have only six legs, while ticks have eight. You can see what they look like at
    • They even leave a purple-red smear when you smush them (believe me, I smushed plenty of them).
    • They feed on trees and infest pines, firs, and other conifers, making Christmas trees vulnerable.
  • They can infest only one tree in a large area, so the tree grower may not know about them.

Aphids are no match for the vacuum – just be sure to throw away the bag.

What If My Tree Has Aphids?

If you’re like me and unknowingly bought a Christmas tree infested with aphids, not to worry! It really isn’t that difficult to deal with them. Try these tips:

    • Shake your tree before bringing it inside, to dislodge as many as possible. You can also rinse your tree with mild soapy water and allow it to dry outdoors. Aphids are soft-bodied insects that are easily washed away.

Bugs in the Christmas tree

Your Christmas tree may be adorned with lights and glitter. But 25,000 insects, mites, and spiders are sound asleep inside the tree.

See also:  Identify, Remove, and Control Stink Bugs

«There are a number of insects hiding in a Christmas tree,» says Associate Professor Bjarte Jordal at the University Museum of Bergen, who goes on to list springtails, bark lice, mites, moths and the odd spider as the creeps most likely to be dragged into the average household come Christmas time.

Jordal is an expert on insects.

«In research on Christmas trees there have been found as many as 25,000 individual creep in some of the trees», Jordal explains. «If you pound the tree on a white cloth before you throw it out after Christmas, you will discover quite a number of small bugs.»

How do these creeps end up in the Christmas tree?

«They go to sleep for the winter, or hibernate to use the technical term. They usually empty their bodies of fluids and produce a chilled liquid and are completely inactive. But they reawaken when the tree is brought into the heat of the living room. It’s all down to stimulus. Upon feeling the heat and awakened by the light, they believe that springtime has arrived and spring back to life.»

So do they go about wandering around the living room or what?

«No, I believe they stay in the tree. Both the Christmas tree and the house itself will be very dry. Also, most insects don’t live off the tree, only in it. As they cannot feed on the limited plants found in most households, the bugs will quickly dry out and die. These insects and bugs do not constitute any risk or danger to people or furniture. And if anyone is worried about allergic reactions, I don’t think there’s any danger of that. But obviously, should there be an extreme number of mites in a tree people with severe allergies may react to this.»

Are there a fixed number of bugs in each and every Christmas tree?

«This varies a lot. Some of it is down to pure coincidence and some of it is down to what type of tree it is. Trees chopped in your own backwoods will contain more bugs than firs and other trees that have been farmed for use as Christmas trees will contain fewer creeps. There is particularly much in Norwegian Pine, whereas Juniper shrub has a fauna of its own.»

Can you spot the little beasts on the tree?

«No, they are good at hiding and are invisible to the human eye, although one certainly should be able to spot the odd spider. To get a proper look, you will have to get out a clean, white sheet and shake the tree.»

What about the tabloid media’s favourite arachnids – the ticks? Can they be found in our Christmas trees as well?

«There may very well be, and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has actually looked into this. Their research suggests that there are three reports every Christmas in Norway of ticks found in Christmas trees. What usually happens is that the family dog has gone to rest under the tree and has incurred ticks. But the overall chances of tick bites are minimal. Also, the dog need not be allowed to rest under the tree. And the ticks are usually in sleep mode when the tree is brought into the house and dead by the time the tree leaves the house after Christmas. So, as I said, the risk is minimal.»

But even if there is seemingly little danger or nuisance to expect from these creepy-crawlies, what should people be conscious of to minimise the number of bugs in the Christmas tree?

«I would recommend that you get a locally grown hardwood tree, as this is most likely to have a limited fauna. But you should by no means clean or flush the tree free of bugs, as this will damage the tree. Anyway, there is nothing to fear. You need to take into consideration that there are plenty of insects and bugs in potted plants that are regular features in most households. As we all know, these attract plenty of flies. It’s no different with Christmas trees.»

Do you think that people are aware that the Christmas tree they bring into the house is full of little bugs?

«Probably not. After all, these little bugs are invisible to the human eye. I believe there is a trend in people not being particularly knowledgeable about nature. But when you bring a tree into the comfort of your living room, the tree carries a part of nature with it. Yet at the same time people tend to remove themselves more and more from nature.»

The Nature of Robertson




Christmas Bells

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Paralysis Tick — a danger to local dogs

As I write this, the word from the Vet is that the Puppy is doing well enough, in recovery, but it is still on a drip. Lets hope it recovers well.

For further scientific discussion of the effects of ticks on animals, please check this link.

This incident hopefully will serve as a timely reminder that even in the cool, mountainous climate of Robertson, ticks are a threat, especially to dogs and small animals. This is especially true if your property is close to the Illawarra Escarpment, it seems. Global warming might also be causing an expansion of the range of these creatures, into areas where they have not been a problem before.

There is a theory that Echidnas might be a vector (carrier) of the Paralysis Tick. It so happens that I saw an Echidna on my friend’s property on the weekend. Below are some photos of an Echidna which I saw last year beside the Illawarra Highway, immediately below the property known as «Ocean View». It is immediately above the top of Macquarie Pass. This is about 5 Km east of Robertson. This Echidna had a very enlarged tick clearly visible on its neck. I have often seen large Ticks on Echidnas, which seem not to be troubled by their poison. Such occurrences are common, and it seems Echidnas have evolved in conjunction with ticks, and presumably are immune to their paralysing poison. But they may well aid in the spread of ticks to other animals.
To find out more about Paralysis Ticks in New South Wales please click on this linked page. There is also some discussion of the supposed connections between Ticks and Lymes Disease or other diseases which cause problems for humans . For more information, please go to this linked page from Westmead Hospital.

Adverse reactions to tick bites on humans can range from localised irritation, to a more severe condition known as «Scrub-itch» (usually associated with numerous tick bites of tiny juvenile ticks — often as many as 50 or more, especially if one has been working in the scrub, eg, clearing Lantana or other dense bushes), and severe allergic reactions, though to toxic shock (anaphylaxis). More serious conditions such as «Queensland Tick Typhus» are also discussed on this site.

See also:  Meadow Vole Control, Guardian Pest Solutions


Yuck! I hate the little «biters» and always suffer rather extreme symptoms — the kind they describe as most common with children — nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light etc etc. Most unpleasant!

Hi Mick
Nasty creatures, I agree. My own personal dislike is for Leeches.
Cannot argue in favour of Ticks though.
Well you have obviously followed the links I gave. Thank you for doing that too.

Hi Denis, Re «Scrub-itch» a condition I have only once experienced in a relatively mild form. I was told that it was a reaction to a mite. but I have never had any more detailed information. Are ‘the mites’ in fact juvenile ticks?

We had a dog on this property for many years that developed quite a good immunity to ticks but it did take some careful nursing through a couple ‘episodes’.

Duncan, from Ben Cruachan said:
I’ve often seen wombats with heaps of ticks on them Denis, doesn’t seem
to worry them either.
Cheers, Duncan.

Thanks Barbara and Duncan
Barbara, I hear that some breeds of dogs, especially Queensland Blue Heelers, are quite resistent to ticks.
No guarantees, though.
Duncan, Wombats, Wallabies and Echidnas have all had umpteen millions of years to develop resistance, so that makes perfect sense , to me.

Urk! Ticks. The seem to favour the possums around here.

The spectacled flying foxes suffer very badly from paralysis tick bites when they come down from the canopy to feed on the introduced Solanum.

Hi Snail
How is your Internet connection?
Thought you must have gone off line.
Strange that ticks affect the tree dwellers and the Big Bats. Who would have thought?
At least Echidnas (and Swamp Wallabies) seem to to be immune.

Common Christmas Tree Bugs and How to Get Rid of Them

It’s the question on everyone’s minds this holiday season: Should I cut down a real Christmas tree or buy a fake one?

Freshly-cut evergreen trees are beautiful and make your home smell amazing, getting you in the Christmas spirit. But when you bring home a living tree you are also inviting thousands of little insects that are hibernating inside the tree. To prepare for these insects, pre-treat your tree before bringing it into your home with:

  • Diatomaceous Earth — An insecticidal powder that uses no synthetic chemicals and leaves no scent or odors. Simply dust your tree while it’s still outside and shake off excess before bringing it inside.
  • Neem Oil Spray — Apply this OMRI Listed® spray to target insects at every growth stage. Use it before trimming your tree or as soon as you spot any pests.

Remember, when slumbering insects enter your festive, warm home, they will wake up thinking it’s spring. Check out our infographic below about the most common insects in Christmas trees and how to make sure they don’t crash your holiday party by taking preventative steps to de-bug your tree.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
If you like our infographic, feel free to share it on your site as long as you include
a link back to this post to credit Safer® Brand as the original creator of the graphic.

Should You Worry About Christmas Tree Bugs?

Don’t panic! The types of bugs inhabiting your jolly Christmas tree are mostly harmless and won’t destroy your home (though, don’t squash the bugs as it may leave marks on furniture and walls).

Most Christmas tree insects don’t live off the tree, only in it. Your home’s environment isn’t suitable to them so they will dry out and die before ever venturing out.

Most Christmas trees aren’t brimming with bugs. Occasionally, you’ll hear a Christmas horror story about praying mantis eggs that hatched inside or thousands of tiny black aphids invading a home.

Associate professor Bjarte Jordal, an expert on insects at the University Museum of Bergen, recommends to “get a locally grown hardwood tree, as this is most likely to have a limited fauna. But you should by no means clean or flush the tree free of bugs, as this will damage the tree. Anyway, there is nothing to fear. You need to take into consideration that there are plenty of insects and bugs in potted plants that are regular features in most households.”

Most Christmas tree farms take precautions on making sure their trees have a minimal amount of pests. Some spray pesticides on the trees, put them through a mechanical shaker and then spray the trees down to get rid of any bugs that might have been living on it.

What Bugs Live in a Real Christmas Tree?

The types of bugs living in your Christmas tree will differ depending on the type of tree and location. The major insects include: adelgids, aphids, bark beetles, mites, praying mantises, psocids, scale insects, spiders, moths, sawflies, weevils, bark lice and webworms.

How to Get Rid of Insects on Your Christmas Tree?

The best way to avoid Christmas tree critters from ruining your holiday is to take these preventative actions.

Inspect the tree branches and trunk for any signs of eggs or bugs. Norwegian pines are know for having the most bugs.

Give the tree a good shake before bringing inside.

Let the tree sit in your garage for at least 24 hours before decorating. This will allow you to see if there are any other bugs venturing out from the tree and to help the tree settle. During this time, spray with Safer® Brand’s End All® neem oil to kill Christmas tree bugs in any stages from eggs to adults.

If you notice a large number of bugs, take the tree back to the Christmas tree shop to trade it in for a new one (most shops will exchange if your tree is particularly buggy).

Living Christmas trees are important to holiday traditions. Don’t let a few bugs scare you into not enjoying a freshly-cut evergreen.

If you end up having an infestation on your hands, Safer® Brand is here to help. Use Safer® Brand’s Diatomaceous Earth, which kills most crawling insects within 48 hours of the bug ingesting it.

More Christmas Tree Help from Safer® Brand

Looking for more ideas on how to care for your Christmas Tree? Check out our Christmas Tree Care Guide. We cover everything from selecting the best tree, cutting it down, bringing it into the home and getting rid of it after the holiday.

Safer® Brand leads the alternative lawn and garden products industry, offering many solutions that are compliant with organic gardening standards. Safer® Brand recognizes this growing demand by consumers and offers a wide variety of products for lawns, gardens, landscapes, flowers, houseplants, insects and more.

If you have questions about Christmas tree bugs or any other gardening issues, reach out to Safer® Brand on Facebook. Also be sure to subscribe to the Safer® Brand E-Newsletter for more helpful ideas on gardening, lawn and houseplant care.

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