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By Sigrid Olson

Heat-Seeking Questers Reach Out


Sigrid Olson, Pathfinder

A female Rocky Mountain tick.

With the snowmelt on warm slopes, certain parasites are hidden amongst growing foliage. Ticks are out and seeking blood to survive. Male and female American Dog and Rocky Mountain ticks can be found within the region.

According to MSU Extension, the most common tick in the Blackfoot Watershed is the Rocky Mountain tick, Dermacentor andersoni. The American dog tick, Dermacentor variablis, can also be found.

Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph and adult. After hatching, the ticks must eat blood at every life stage to survive.

Males and females differ in appearance. Female Dog and Rocky Mountain ticks are reddish brown in coloring and have a light colored area behind their head. Male Dog ticks have light colored splotches on their backs while male Rocky Mountain ticks have some splotching as well but not as evident.

Ticks sense body heat, moisture and vibrations in order to find their host. Ticks cannot jump and do not have wings, so they have to reach out. The hanging and reaching position is called questing.

While questing, ticks hold onto foliage by their third and fourth pair of legs. They hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to grab onto the host. When a host walks by the tick latches on and begins to look for a place to bite and embed.

Department of Human Health and Services officials say the best way to prevent tick-borne disease is to prevent tick bites. This can be done by limiting exposure to ticks and not entering tick-prone areas during warm and wet springtime when ticks are most active.

Those who venture out cross country through tall grass and brush are encouraged to wear long sleeved shirts, long pants tucked into light colored socks along with hair tightly braided or tucked under a hat. Light colors can help spot the crawling ticks. Using repellents might also help.

Sometimes while in tick country small plastic bottles full of rubbing alcohol or water along with tape can be handy for removing ticks while walking along. Ticks can be dabbed off with the tape as they are crawling around and scraped off into the bottle with barely a misstep.

Potomac resident Craig Nelson found ticks as a forester in Western Montana. Working on the southern portion of the Salish and Kootenai Reservation he found incredible amounts of ticks and began collecting them.

"One day, I collected 25 before noon," said Nelson.

Another resident collects them annually in a plastic jar to keep track of found ticks. Storing the ticks and keeping track of when and where you found them embedded can help in the event reactions occur.

Nelson and his family tape them to their family calendar as they encounter them.

"I remember watching them [ticks] hanging off of a Bitterbrush plant and reaching out for my hand."  "It was amazing how it would reach out with legs on one side trying to get on me," said Nelson.

After returning from tick-prone areas, health officials recommend inspecting animal and human body parts for ticks. While ticks can embed anywhere, they prefer warm, moist areas to latch on.

If an embedded tick is found, use a pointy tweezers close to the skin of the human or animal and pull the tick straight out. Twisting the tweezers can cause tick mouths to break off and stay inside the skin creating a greater chance of infection.

Tick bites should be cleaned with soap and water, rubbing alcohol and monitored for reactions.

Commonly reported tick-borne diseases in Montana include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, Tularemia and Colorado tick fever.

Some symptoms following tick bites are swollen glands, rashes, fever and aches. Individuals should see their healthcare provider if they have been bitten by a tick and experience symptoms.

For more information about ticks visit the DPHHS website at


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