More Ticks Than Ever This Year? Unclear, But Already Enough For Abundance Of Caution

When Catherine Graciano was recently out walking Seamus, a fluffy Malamute-Chihuahua mix, in Wellfleet near the tip of Cape Cod, she found a dozen big ticks crawling in the dog’s white fur after only 20 minutes. She said lately she’s been finding more ticks than last year on her own body, too, after runs in the Cape’s parks.

Just finishing a walk in Peterson Farm in Falmouth, herbalist Lauren Valle said these days, she thinks twice before foraging in the woods for nettles, because she’s heard that ticks are expected to be a bigger problem than usual this year. She’s 11 weeks pregnant, and wouldn’t want to have to undergo Lyme disease treatment if a tick infected her.

As she chatted, Valle’s walking partner, Elise Hugus, began checking around her own leggings for ticks. “The power of suggestion,” she said.

Even within the city of Boston, residents have reported striking tick encounters in recent days. Kelley Ready of Dorchester’s St. Mark’s neighborhood took a stroll on the nearby Neponset Trail with her friend, Urjasi Rudru, and Rudru’s big orange dog, Simba. Simba was leashed and stayed on the trail, but, inquisitive, stuck his nose into the reeds and grass. Later, Ready reported on a neighborhood forum, Simba’s head and paws were infested with well over a dozen ticks, and Rudru found more on him the following day.

Warm weather ticks are nothing new, but “this just seemed really extreme to me,” Ready said.

It has become an annual springtime ritual in Massachusetts, one of the states most heavily affected by Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, to wonder whether the emerging tick population is bigger than ever. This year, those concerns gained added fuel from an ecologist’s prediction that this will be a particularly heavy tick year in the Northeast, and thus heavy for the diseases they carry as well.

A white-footed mouse, left, and a blacklegged tick (Stephen Reiss for NPR)

Richard Ostfeld, of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, observed that…

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