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Don't expect extreme cold to kill ticks

Don't expect extreme cold to kill ticks

Could make an appearance later this week as temperatures expected to rise
Don't expect extreme cold to kill ticks
Photographer: Shutterstock

For those thinking the recent cold wave should improve the coming tick season, don't count on it. 

In fact, ticks could make an appearance later this week, due to rising temperatures Thursday and Friday, according to Bryon Backenson, an epidemiologist at the state Department of Health. He said ticks can come out when temperatures get above 45 to 50 degrees. 

Neil Stuart, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany, said temperatures are expected to be in the upper 40s on Thursday and are likely to rise into the low 50s Friday.

"It's above normal, but it's not unusual," Stuart said. "Fluctuations in temperature are normal in January."

"There could be a tick here or there later this week that comes out, if you walk your dog or go for a winter hike," Backenson said. "They'll be a little less aggressive, but it's not out of the realm of possibility to find one."

Backenson said ticks survive extremely cold temperatures in the winter by hiding under the snow.

"If we had wicked cold temperatures and there was no snow on the ground, it would have done a good number on the tick population," he said. "But they have a protected cover to keep them going."

In June, a 74-year-old Gansevoort man died after contracting Powassan virus from a tick. A total of three cases of Powassan were subsequently reported in Saratoga County last year. Symptoms range from mild flu-like symptoms to life-threatening encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. 

The Asian tiger mosquito, which Backenson said is more common downstate, is more likely to be impacted by the recent cold wave than are ticks. 

"They're becoming common in Long Island, New York City and New Jersey, but they're slowly creeping their way up into Orange and Putnam counties," he said. "They make it through the winter as eggs, and if the temperature is below a certain point for an extended period of time, the eggs will die."

Timothy McCabe, curator of entomology and a state entomologist at the New York State Museum, like Backenson, said temperatures in the 40s and 50s could cause the tick population to become active again.

"You can pick up ticks if you're out in the woods," he said. "They won't notice the impact of the cold snap we had recently." 

McCabe said other conditions, such as the availability of hosts, like deer, as well as infections by certain fungi and viruses, could have a bigger impact on the tick population this winter. 

"A wet year is more damaging (to the tick population) than a cold year," he said. 

There are approximately 20,000 species of insects and 4,000 species of spiders in New York state, according to McCabe.

"In an unusually warm or cold winter, there will be winners and losers in those categories," he said. "A cold winter could benefit some species while harming others."

For example, McCabe said butterflies could be negatively impacted by the recently brutal temperatures. 

"If we experience another cold snap, it'll be interesting to see what happens to them above ground," he said. "This last flare-up of cold might have put them out of business until the warm weather returns."

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