Tiny monsters


By Regena Handy

Looking back at the incident, she must have thought I’d taken leave of my senses. Parting her soft, baby fine hair with a comb, I carefully examined her scalp. After a moment, her little voice piped up.  “What are you doing, Aunt Gena?”

“I’m ticking you, sweetie.” She gave me a puzzled look, then asked, “What’s that?”

“I’m looking for ticks.” No reply. “Little bug-like things that get on you sometimes during the summer.”

Her eyes widened in horror. Ah, oh. “You don’t have those at home?” I asked a bit anxiously. She shook her head, her own little fingers finding their way to her head.

Oh, boy, now I’d done it. Probably traumatized my sensitive seven-year-old niece for life.

This was around 1981 and my brother’s family lived in Smyth County. His two older children were spending a few days with us during summer vacation. Too late I realized that the area where they lived was not infested by ticks as was the case in Patrick County.

Even that short time ago—only slightly more than 30 years—it seemed ticks were just pests to be dealt with. As much a part of summer as the chiggers we scratched or the stings we got from accidentally stepping on honeybees.  We plucked them off ourselves, our dogs and cats, squashed them with our foot and kept going. Sure, they were an aggravation but not something we had reason to fear.

Now we hear every day of health problems, specifically Lyme disease, which are linked to tick bites. I personally have friends and family who have dealt with such issues. Already this year, I’ve found a couple of the rascals trying to make themselves at home on my body—unfortunately, I have a lot of body for them to inhabit—and find my anxiety level escalate whenever I’m outside, as a result.

All this tick talk got me to pondering. Exactly what is the purpose of this little parasite—what is its role in the natural world? Supposedly every living thing has a reason for existing, right? So I did some research.

Without going into specific scientific terminology, it appears one proposed rationale is that it operates as a check or balance in controlling ever increasing populace of specific critters. It is suggested that this happens by the strain they place on young animals and birds thus causing anemia. Other sources indicate the tick to be a significant food supply for many woodland creatures, thus serving as a useful function in the ecosystem.

Now this particular subject is about as far from my field of expertise as it gets. I only know that ticks are capable of doing real harm to humans and I personally have no tolerance for the tiny monsters despite the role they may play in the environment.

So here’s the way I see it. I have two choices—I can either close myself in the house this summer. Or I might buy some guinea fowls which apparently consume large quantities of the pests, though their loud screeching noise makes them a bit of a nuisance, as well.

But I hear they also serve as great watchdogs. Maybe worth considering.