Milder winters mean Connecticut's ticks are now active all year long
Milder, shorter winters in Connecticut have all but eliminated tick “seasons” as state officials now say ticks are active year-round.
The state’s Active Tick Surveillance Program used to get 50 tick specimens from December to March. But in recent months, it’s received 800, according to Dr. Goudarz Molaei, who leads the program and is with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
When temperatures drop below freezing, ticks burrow under leaves or snow, and that cold weather can actually kill tick populations. But more mild winters can keep ticks from going dormant and also reduce mortality, leading to a population increase.
It also means they can present a bigger danger to people.
“Once the temperature increases to above freezing, temperature close to 40 degrees [Fahrenheit], they come out and actively seek hosts,” Molaei said.
Average air temperatures in Connecticut have risen by more than two degrees Fahrenheit in recent decades, which can often be the difference between freezing and not freezing, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Winter seasonal temperature averages have experienced the biggest jump, according to the Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation.
Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist at the Northeast Regional Climate Center, said higher temperatures are being seen year-round in Connecticut and in the rest of New England.
”Winter is just another part of that,” Spaccio said. “Where we are seeing the long-term trends showing that overall, that the temperatures are continuing to climb due to anthropogenic climate change.”
NRCC projects that temperatures in the state will remain mild for the rest of January.
Long term, people in the Northeast will be infected with more tick-borne diseases, Molaei added, noting that Lyme disease has been detected equally among tick specimens in the winter and summer. Lyme, primarily carried by blacklegged ticks, has already been steadily rising in the U.S., and its prevalence nearly doubled between 1991 and 2018.
In addition, invasive tick species like the Asian longhorn tick and Gulf Coast tick have been detected in the state, particularly in Fairfield and New Haven counties.
Molaei said it’s time for people to realize that Connecticut is a state with pervasive tick areas and that it’s incorrect to think that ticks go away during the winter – or that they’re not dangerous.
“There is no such thing that [in] wintertime we are dealing with less ticks, or the ticks that we are having in winter times may not be able to transmit Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases,” Molaei said.
To prevent tick bites, the CDC recommends:
- Avoiding potential tick-filled places like high grassy or wooded areas
- Tucking pant legs into socks
- Walking along the center of wooded trails
- Checking your clothing, gear and pets for ticks upon return
- For pets, talking to your vet about prevention products
- Showering less than two hours after being outdoors
- Doing a full body check to search for ticks that may have bit
For information on submitting a tick to test for diseases or identification, visit the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station website.