ST. PAUL — Along with the usual caveats about muzzle control and keeping the safety on, Garth Guyer, a youth firearms safety instructor in Dakota County, gave his class of 30 one more order for range day on Saturday, April 21.
"Bring your permethrin!" he said. "The ticks will be out."
The delayed spring, followed by an upcoming week of temperatures reaching 65 degrees, has created a perfect storm for tick season. They have been waiting to emerge, and they are ravenous.
"They'll be coming out in full force," said Janet Jarnefeld, manager of tick vector services with the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District. The MMCD is a government agency that falls under the authority of the seven metro counties: Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey Scott and Washington.
Jarnefeld's job is to monitor tick activity. She uses several methods, but taking a walk through a field or wooded area works, too.
"I was just out walking with my dog and I found one," she said.
Ticks can have a three-year life cycle. After hatching from an egg, a tick can spend one year as a larva, the second as a nymph and the third as an adult. Ticks can bite at any stage, although they ares not usually successful in snagging a human in the larva stage because they are so small and weak. They are most dangerous as nymphs, because they are small and hard to detect, giving them more time to feed.
Ticks burrow into leaf litter and lie dormant under snow during the winter, emerging when temperatures get above 40 degrees. So, yes, you can have snow on the ground and still be bitten by a tick, Jarnefeld said.
Last year her group found a tick on a warm day in February and several in March. This year, the ticks have had to wait through mid-April to come out.
Jarnefeld predicts that the ticks will be thick this week.
"It'll seem like there's a lot more because they're coming out in full force all at once instead of a little at a time," she said.
Deer ticks are found in brushy or wooded habitat. Wood ticks are more often lurking in grassy fields. They wait on vegetation about a foot-and-a-half off the ground. When a victim comes near, the ticks can detect breath, body odors, body heat, moisture and vibrations. They wait in a position known as "questing."
"They start waving their claws around and they grasp onto your clothing," Jarnefeld said.
Ticks transmit disease, such as Lyme, human anaplasmosis and babesiosis, during the feeding process. Simply finding an attached tick does not always result in a tick-borne illness. Not all deer ticks are infected and at least 24 to 48 hours of attachment time must occur before infection.
According to the MMCD website, the deer tick, which is the main carrier of pathogens in Minnesota, has been found in northern and eastern Anoka County, northern Ramsey County, and most of Washington County. Isolated populations have also been found in Hennepin, Dakota, Scott and Carver counties.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported 1,305 confirmed Lyme disease cases in 2016.
To prevent being infected, clothes should be sprayed with permethrin, which is an insecticide that repels ticks. Do a "tick check" after being in the woods or fields, wear lighter colored pants to make spotting them easier or use Jarnefeld's old tried and true technique: tuck pant legs into socks.
Tick season peaks in July and picks up again in September until temperatures drop below 40. That means August is the best month for outdoor projects.
"I call August our tick-free month," Jarnefeld said. "It's not to say you won't see any, but it provides the fewest opportunities for ticks to attach to you."