It may be early February, but it’s time to start checking for ticks.
The Metropolitan Mosquito Control District reported the first deer tick spotting in the Twin Cities on Monday. Since then, the district has continued to receive reports across the counties, said Alex Carlson, the organization’s public affairs manager.
“Start taking those precautions now,” Carlson said.
It’s not unheard of to find a tick in February. Whenever there are warmer temperatures — and less snow — the odds are higher. But what makes this stand out is how many more reports there have been this time, Carlson said.
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In Minnesota, adult ticks usually emerge once the snow has melted and reach peak during May. There’s a second period of activity in fall, before temperatures dip below freezing again. This year, if ticks keep surviving the mild winter, there’s a chance Minnesotans will see even more ticks than usual during peak spring activity.
This milder winter has also come with some early mosquito spottings, although Carlson says he’s not too concerned about that. Mosquitoes need more plants for food and the colder temperatures on the way will likely kill them off. Still, Carlson is thinking about what the future could hold.
“It used to be you’d have a pretty set season of when you would see ticks and mosquitoes, but that's getting longer and longer,” Carlson said. “And if winters continue to be mild, some of the more dangerous species that we don’t have in Minnesota, because they can’t survive our winters, might come up here and start thriving when they wouldn't before.”
There are currently about a dozen different types of ticks in Minnesota, according to the health department, including the American dog tick (aka wood tick) and the blacklegged tick. The latter, more commonly referred to as a deer tick, causes the most tickborne disease in the state.
The department said Lyme disease cases have been increasing in Minnesota. There were 1,033 confirmed cases in 2021. From 2000 to 2009, the median number of cases was 915.
Ticks have to attach for at least a day or two before transmitting the bacteria for Lyme disease. That’s why Carlson urges vigilance. The sooner people can detect ticks — on themselves and their pets — the better.
“If you take your dog out for a walk, it’s really important to check them for ticks when they come back,” he said. “They’re the ones likely to be the ones picking them up this time of year as they’re going into the longer grasses, the woods where ticks might be more present.”
The Minnesota Department of Health has a number of tick prevention tips on their website, including using tick repellent and checking hard-to-see areas.