April 2022


One early spring afternoon three years ago I came home from my annual physical, pleased about my clean bill of health. Four hours later, I was admitted to the hospital with a temperature of 104 degrees, blinding headache, and muscle soreness. It took two days and many tests and retests to determine the cause. It was a tick-borne disease called anaplasmosis. That was the first time I ever heard of it. I had heard much about tick-borne Lyme disease (who in Connecticut hasn’t) but anaplasmosis? Who knew?

The good news was that it was that my disease was treatable with antibiotics, and I fully recovered in just a few days. What was the source of my disease? In all likelihood, a tick I picked up while doing the spring clean-up in my garden. I vowed thereafter, I would be much more careful about ticks whenever I gardened, or ventured outside my yard into the woods to walk my dogs. I tell this cautionary tale as a reminder that ticks are all around us and this spring – and throughout the year – it’s important to take measures to protect you, your family, and your pets as well. 

To date, there are eight known tick-borne diseases in Connecticut. They are spread by only three tick species: the Blacklegged (“deer”) tick (Ixodes scapularis), the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), and the American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). The good news is that the measures you need to follow to avoid tick diseases are the same for all three species According to the CDC website Ticks and Their Body Buddies , there are steps to take before you go outdoors, after you come in, and  if, despite your best efforts, you find you’ve become a tick taxi.

Adult female lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) https://www.neregionalvectorcenter.com/lone-star-tick.php

Before You Go Outside

1. Know where ticks are mostly likely to be. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas or they can be carried in on animals. Make sure your furry children are treated with tick medicine.

2. Treat clothing and gear before you spend time outside. Products sprays that contain 5% permethrin can be used on clothing, boots, camping gear and will stay on for several washings.  Alternately, some clothing and gear that contains permethrin are available for purchase.

3. Use EPA- insecticide repellents. Always follow Product instructions. EPA advises children under three years of age not use Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) or para-methane-diol, (PMD).

4. Be sure to avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter. When hiking stay in the middle of the path.

After You Come In

1. Check your clothes, gear and pets for any tick stow-a-ways.

2. Take a shower within two hours of coming inside. It may wash off any unattached ticks. 

3.Check your whole body for ticks. Use a mirror to check under arms, in or around ears, inside the belly button, back of knees, around the hair, between legs and around the waist.

American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) https://www.neregionalvectorcenter.com/american-dog-tick.php

Oh _______! It’s a Tick!

If, despite your best efforts you do find a tick has taken up residence on you or a loved one:

1. Use clean, fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.

2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you cannot remove the mouth easily with tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.

3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

4. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by:

5. Putting it in alcohol,

6. Placing it in a sealed bag/container,

7. Wrapping it tightly in tape.

8. Save the tick and monitor the affected area for a rash or in case you develop a fever.

9. If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.

If you WANT to have the tick tested, Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic laboratory offers testing:

https://cvmdl.uconn.edu/tick-testing/options/

Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.

Kirby C. Stafford III, Ph.D. Vice Director, Chief Entomologist, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven has put together a Tick Management Handbook, which provides  comprehensive information on ticks to Connecticut residents:

https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/CAES/DOCUMENTS/Publications/Bulletins/b1010pdf.pdf?la=en

Garden season means tick season, but with a bit of prevention and a lot of attention, you can have a full year of garden joys –  without the tick-borne trip to the hospital that made me want to write this blogpost.

Marie Woodward

Spiffy Viola

“A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew / A cloud, and a rainbow’s warning / Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue / An April day in the morning.” – Harriet Prescott Spofford

Woodland fern frond underside loaded with spores

This April has been slow to warm up, but finally we are getting some warm days, and spring flowers and returning or migrating birds are beginning to make themselves known. Many birds, like Carolina wrens and bluebirds, have probably laid eggs already, or they will soon. Chickadees and some woodpeckers are tapping holes in trees to use as nesting chambers for rearing their young. A few early flowers are brightening up the landscape, and soon many others will follow.

A pair of chickadees made a hole in this dead tree trunk for a nest
Black and white warbler

On Horsebarn Hill, UConn’s pastureland, there are many birdhouses that serve as nesting sites for Eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, and sparrows. Early in the morning, birds can be seen sitting on top of the houses they have chosen.

Male and female bluebirds near their nest box on an April morning
The same pair after the male gave the female an insect as a gift

On Horsebarn hill, there are also young horses, cows and sheep that were born this spring. One is a friendly little colt I call Little Blaze- a friendly little chap with stellar markings.

Little blaze

Forsythias are nearing full bloom, and the early blooming Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’ have a profusion of pink flowers, being the first of its species to bloom here in the Northeast. Bees are visiting its flowers, as well as those of Cornus mas, another early blooming landscape shrub.

Forsythia used as a hedge
‘Cornell Pink’

Migrating birds that are passing through in early spring are just now arriving. Palm warblers, sweet little rusty brown warblers with a yellow chest with brown splashes can be found in wet arears like bogs that have a lot of trees and shrubs. They flit around looking for insects, wagging their tails when at rest.

Palm Warbler in boggy woodland area

Spring flowers like Coltsfoot, an introduced species, flowers as early as March, with yellow flowers appearing before their leaves open. Flower stalks have unusual scales. Seed heads are similar to those of dandelions, and silk plumes allow the wind to carry the seeds a distance. Birds use this silk for nesting material.

Coltsfoot

Twinleaf and bloodroot bloom very early. Twinleaf has an unusual leaf that is divided in half lengthwise. Bloodroot has a single leaf that appears after the flower and is wrapped around the flower stalk before opening. Both plants have similar bright-white flowers that stand out in the otherwise dismal landscape.


Bloodroot
Twinleaf

Turtles are enjoying basking on sunny days, and toads are around as egg- laying will begin soon. Spotted salamander eggs and wood frog eggs can be seen in some vernal pools already. The spotted salamander eggs differ from wood frog eggs in that the egg masses are covered with a clear or cloudy gel.

These painted turtles need a bigger log
Spotted salamander eggs

The Connecticut River is at flood stage, blueberries are just showing flower buds, and native willows are in full bloom, providing food for our early native bees. A few cabbage white butterflies can be seen floating by, and spring is about to go into full throttle.

A doughnut cloud…

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”
― William Shakespeare

Spring thunderstorms are a part of life in New England. While we know to prepare our homes, pets, and livestock for inclement weather when it hits, we may not think to secure our beehives for bad weather as well. It is important for beekeepers to adequately prepare for storms to minimize colony losses and damage to hives. This is especially necessary in early spring when colonies tend to be less strong due to the combination of winter recovery and reduced nectar flow. Following the steps below will ensure that bees will be equipped to handle a significant storm. Large-scale operations with many hives may want to follow additional recommendations for severe storms and hurricanes provided by the USDA.

  1. Place hives in an ideal location to handle the storm – If a severe weather event is forecast, consider moving your beehives to a secure, offsite location that will not be directly impacted by the storm. Hives should be placed on high, level ground and moved away from areas where water could accumulate. Though trees may provide a windbreak to offer some protection, hives should not be placed directly under trees that could drop branches on them. Any debris near hives should be removed as they could become projectiles if winds are sufficiently strong. If you have access to a shelter location, such as a fortified shed or barn, hives may be moved there. Close the entrances of the hives to prevent bees from escaping in the building. Never keep bees in a storage area attached to where humans or animals live, such as a garage. Move the bees back to their normal location as soon as safe to do so.
  2. Provide colonies adequate resources – Colonies should be equipped to handle intense rain and a short period without access to nectar. Repair any damages to hive exteriors and apply fresh weatherproof paint if needed. Ensure the colonies are supplied with honey or other sources of food and water, such as a sugar solution. Top feeders may not be a good choice for hives remaining outside as they can be blown off, increasing likelihood of water infiltration.
  3. Secure hives in place – For hives that remain outside, it is essential to minimize the risk of them toppling over. While it may seem best to raise hives off the ground using stands to prevent water infiltration, this effort may be counterproductive if it increases the risk of the hive falling over. Use packing crates weighted with cinder blocks if flooding is likely and the hives cannot be relocated. Bricks or stones placed on lids of hives are not an ideal choice as they are surprisingly easy to be blown off with intense winds, increasing risk of damage to hives. Instead, use ratchet straps or quality rope, securely anchored to the ground, to hold hives in place. Cinder blocks may be left on lids if they are strapped securely (through the hole) to the top.
  4. Secure supplies – Place all beekeeping supplies in waterproof containers. Gloves, veils, smokers, hive tools, etc. should be placed in a sealed, waterproof container that can be easily accessed after the storm. Similarly, unused frames, wax and honey extraction tools and any other pieces of equipment that may carry an odor (which may attract pests) should be placed in a sealed, waterproof container that may be further reinforced with duct tape or another sealant.
  5. DO NOT:
    • – Cover hives with plastic (suffocation, drowning, or overheating may occur)
    • – Remove propolis from hives before the storm (propolis reduces water infiltration)
    • – Place hives next to or inside residential buildings (even if they will be evacuated prior to a severe storm)
    • – Place hives under trees that could drop limbs or fall on them
    • – Raise hives off the ground with unstable stands (this increases the likelihood of them falling over)
    • – Clean up or repair damage until safe to do so and all damage has been documented (for insurance purposes)

References and Further Reading:

Until next time,

Nick Goltz, DPM