They've come to suck your blood—and that's not the worst of it

Feb 22, 2012
Outside Magazine

Tickophobia    Photo: Chris Buck

NOT TOO LONG AGO, I picked an engorged tick up off the floor of my kitchen, thinking it was a stray chocolate chip. It only took a moment for me to see more clearly the minuscule legs and the hideous crease down the underside, but the idea that I had mistaken a tick for something edible freaked me out for days. Because now that I've had my midlife mortality crisis and come to terms with just about every fear I used to have (and they were legion), the only one left is ticks.

I have dogs, the best of which is, unfortunately, a golden retriever. A golden retriever is a paradise for ticks—lots of hair to hide in. During tick season here in California, sometimes we see two or three dark-brown ticks crawling around the top of the dog's head looking for a place to attach. That's repulsive enough, but it's the ones who found a spot, ate their fill, and dropped off that I worry about, lying there in the pattern of an oriental rug, waiting to be stepped on.

It's hard, if not impossible, to find anyone who defends ticks. Spiders and houseflies and rattlesnakes and killer bees and even maggots and leeches have their fans, who inform the rest of us about how useful, well adapted, or beautifully designed their preferred creature actually is—but the only thing you ever hear about ticks is that they carry Lyme disease. It is typical of the malevolence of ticks that the carrier is too small to notice until after she has delivered her insidious message.

Ticks seem to exist for themselves alone. They are ugly as nymphs and grossly disgusting as engorged adults. They live only to reproduce, which females do by dropping thousands of larvae and then dying. They don't take a meal and move on, like mosquitoes; they dangle by their mouths and get intimate. When feeding, they are motionless and passive. The worst thought when you find a tick in your hair is that it's been there awhile, that it drank your blood without your even realizing it. You have to ask, in the parade of extinctions, why can't we trade ticks for something we prefer, like black rhinos or snow leopards?

It happens to be summer now in California, too dry for ticks. I have some breathing room. I might even go for a walk one of these days. While I'm out there, I will visualize a world without ticks. It will be just like our world, only better.

More Adventure