Yo, Dude, It Was All In Good Humor!

By University of Arkansas

First posted on 08-01-2008

Forget about Mexican crab tick, it doesn’t exist…. but be wary of the lone star tick!

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Don’t believe everything you read – even where giant Mexican crab ticks are concerned.

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture recently received a call from a Pulaski County woman concerned about something she had read in a newspaper.

“I just want to know if it’s true,” the woman said, relaying a story about the “shockingly large ticks the size of soccer balls” a fictional family reported encountering on a hiking trail near Star City.

The column, “Otus the Head Cat,” is printed with a disclaimer explaining that it is made up of “humorous fabrication.” Columnist Michael Storey wrote that he had wanted to warn his readers earlier about the infestation of Mexican crab ticks but that he had been dissuaded by Gov. Mike Beebe’s office, which did not want to risk scaring off state parks tourists at a crucial time for state revenue.

“I did my best to disabuse her of the notion, but I don’t think she believed me,” recalled Extension Communications Specialist Lamar James. “I then advised her to call her county agent or Dr. John Hopkins, extension urban entomologist.”

Hopkins was able to reassure the woman that the column is strictly humorous, and there is no such critter.

“I finally convinced her,” he said. And then, “Well, she might have hung up thinking I’m in cahoots with the governor’s office.”

Michael Storey, the columnist who writes Otus the Head Cat, was surprised that the extension service had gotten a phone call about the Mexican crab ticks, he said, “Just one call? I’ve gotten several.”

Storey said he likes to have fun with his columns, but “there always seem to be four or five people who don’t seem to get it.”

He said the fact that the column is written by a cat that died in 1992 ought to be a clue that it’s a spoof. Unfortunately, some people don’t read the disclaimer or it doesn’t sink in. He cautioned people not to believe everything they read in the paper.

Storey, who has had his own encounters with ticks, said Arkansas ticks are scary enough.

Dr. Kelly Loftin, extension entomologist, says that the female lone star tick is probably the largest tick found in Arkansas, reaching about half-inch when fully engorged – smaller than a marble, and far smaller than a soccer ball.

But, says Loftin, size isn’t a key factor in whether ticks are dangerous to people. Even some of the relatively small ticks in Arkansas can cause nasty illnesses.

The lone star tick, for example, can transmit human ehrlichiosis. The symptoms of human ehrlichiosis vary from mild to severe and may include fever, headache, fatigue and muscle ache. Rashes are common among pediatric patients. About one-half of the people who contract the disease and who don’t get prompt antibiotic treatment require hospitalization, and 2 percent to 3 percent of infections may be fatal.

Early signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever – transmitted through the bite of American dog ticks, are fever, nausea, vomiting, severe headache, muscle pain and lack of appetite and these may be accompanied by a rash of small, flat, pink spots on the wrists, forearms and ankles.

The first case of Lyme disease diagnosed in the United States was in 1975 in Old Lyme, Conn., and is now the most common tick-borne disease reported throughout the country. Arkansans could get Lyme disease after being bitten by the black-legged tick – also known as deer tick – and may see a telltale bulls-eye ring around the bite in the earliest stages. There may be a slowly expanding red rash which fades in the center as it spreads away from the bite.

Lyme disease produces flu-like symptoms, such as mild headaches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, stiff and painful muscles and joints, fatigue and low fever. Left untreated, these symptoms may progress into chronic and severe conditions including muscle pain and arthritis, meningitis, numbness, tingling and burning sensations in the extremities, Bell’s palsy and eye, heart, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.

Some of those sicknesses are no doubt even more frightening than monster Mexican crab ticks, but there are ways people can protect themselves from all the horrors.

Loftin says people should avoid tick-infested areas when possible, and when that isn’t realistic they should use tick repellents, most commonly those containing permethrin, for clothing only, or DEET. Follow label directions when using any insecticide or repellent.

Other suggestions are:

* Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot dark ticks, and check yourself and your children for ticks frequently.

* Promptly remove a tick with tweezers where its mouthparts enter the skin, and disinfect the site. If a tick is removed within a few hours of a bite there is usually no adverse consequence.

* Use insecticides and modify habitats to reduce tick populations around your home.

For more information about ticks and tick-borne diseases, visit the extension’s Web site, http://www.uaex.edu, or contact your county extension agent. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.

Article by Kimberly Dishongh