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280 days of Urbpandemonium #50

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My coworker Jason flagged me down. He had an unhappy expression on his face and a piece of paper in his hand. On the paper was not words, but a female Dermacentor variablis*, what we usually call a dog tick or a wood tick. "Picked this off of me," he said grimly. I got excited about having a specimen to photograph, so much so I almost forgot to say what we always do when this happens, "At least it wasn't a deer tick."

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Sure, dog ticks spread Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and tularemia, but when was the last time you heard of someone catching one of those? But I can't think of a single New Englander I know who doesn't have a friend or family member who has experienced Lyme disease, or had it themselves. I almost feel warmly toward Dermacentor ticks, on account of how much loathing their smaller cousins the Ixodes** ticks inspire.

* "Variable skin-pricker."

**Greek ixos(ιξος)- "birdlime" (a sticky substance put on places where birds perched in order to trap them) + -odes (-ωδης)- a variant of -oides(οιδης)- "like, resembling" (only seen as an ending).

280 days of Urbpandemonium #12

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After a short walk through my suburban neighborhood--including a wooded easement next to a cemetery--I sat in my kitchen texting my wife. Suddenly the eight-legged silhouette of the pictured animal crossed the backlit screen. It appeared that I was the next step of the journey for a "questing" blacklegged tick Ixodes scapularis (more popularly called a deer tick).

Previous to crawling on me, she had crawled to the edge of the twig of a shrub, reaching (questing) with her front legs, smelling the carbon dioxide I was emitting, and sensing my body heat. Previous to that she had endured the long winter, possibly under the seven feet of snow, under a warm decomposing layer of leaf litter. She may have just recently become an adult--not long ago she was a tiny nymph the size of a poppy seed, clinging to the creature that provided the meal that allowed her to grow and shed her exoskeleton.

We don't know what creature it was that served as her past home and meal ticket, but we know it was warm blooded. Chances are very good that it was a white footed mouse, in which case she was also very likely to be carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, Babesiosis, or Anaplasmosis. If as a nymph she fed on a white tailed deer--less likely, since nymphs tend to stay low and feed on smaller creatures--then she would be rather more unlikely to carry these pathogens, especially Lyme disease. If her previous host was an opossum, she would have been among the lucky 10 percent that made it past the North American marsupial's diligent groom-and-eat regimen.

Females are identifiable by the large amount of red colored body not covered by the scutum, or dorsal shield. The scutum provides protection, but also is inelastic, and these blood-feeders need to be able to expand their body to accumulate the massive meal they need to produce their eggs. Males take smaller meals and are more fully covered by the scutum, making them look smaller and darker.

After I took this picture I removed this tick from the food web--they are an overabundant species causing serious human and animal health problems. I also reported it to like a good citizen scientist.
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My friend dedhamoutside and I co-led an Urban Nature Walk in the Dedham Town Forest (previously seen here). This sign is relatively new. On the one hand, it's nice for the town to recognize the Town Forest; on the other, now it's more visible for use and abuse. We set out with the intention to find mushrooms and other living things!

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I got your dead rodents right here

This is my favorite picture from today's Urban Nature Walk in Forest Park, a huge city park in the third largest city in Massachusetts, Springfield. I grew up two towns away from here, but had never explored it quite like this. Here's my favorite picture from the walk, from about halfway through. But let's see how we got there!

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A great walk! If you'd like to get in on the action go here:

3:00 snapshot #1230


Like many people who have also posted on livejournal today, this morning I woke up to yet another pile of snow on my world. Insult was added all day long, as snow turned to sleet, to graupel, to ice pellets, to freezing rain, to snizzle, and finally merely cold rain. It was a great day to exercise the privilege of autonomy of my job, and stay indoors as much as possible, working on the tick presentation I'll be giving next week.

100 Species #62: American dog tick.

This adult male American dog tick Dermacentor variablis came into the yard on one of our dogs. We have picked several off of both dogs this year.

American dog ticks overwinter in the soil and emerge in Massachusetts in April, looking for a mammal to feed on. Dog owners often express relief when they find a dog tick--at least it wasn't a deer tick! Dog ticks don't carry the organism that cause Lyme disease, though they do carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. They are also much larger than deer ticks and therefore easier to find. Dog tick (also called wood ticks) can live on almost any medium-sized to large mammal, and must feed on three different hosts as they grow to adulthood.

This is our preferred tool to remove attached ticks:

The American dog tick appeared in this blog before as #365 Urban Species #146.

Attention Bird Feeders of the North!

Hey, you people who are throwing bird seed and bread onto the snow:


The birds survived The Ice Age, they will be fine.

Even if you aren't literally feeding Rattus norvegicus you are mostly feeding house sparrows and pigeons, which are, ecologically speaking, worse than rats. And if you don't have those birds, you surely have deer mice (Leucopus sp.) and chipmunks, the two main carriers of Lyme disease in the city.

Hang a suet cage if you must, but don't worry about the birds, they will survive--and those that don't weren't meant to. Sorry, shoveling snow brings out my callousness, and those are the facts.

Dane Park

Yesterday I took Charlie to Dane Park, a geologically significant piece of land in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Brookline.
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