Can we blame Texas?  

Yes, for lots of things right now. You can make your own list. Mine grows by the day.  

The state is not, however, responsible for lone Star tick. Lone star ticks are named for the single white star or dot on the back of the adult female tick. Males lack the spot and instead have streaks around their edges. 

While their name evokes the well-known Texas nickname, these ticks did not originate in that state, though they are present there. They were a more southern species, with populations found in the east part of Texas — along the East Coast — and have since spread north from there. 

Lone star tick populations are expanding their range and increasing in numbers. Unfortunately for us, they have moved into New England and gained a foot (or six to eight feet) hold on our yards, fields and most Island habitats. 

Beware of these invasive arachnids! Always check yourself carefully after nature excursions. Reports have been flowing in over the last few weeks about great groups, clusters, bombs, nests, or masses of small black organisms. No matter what you call a group of lone star tick larvae, they are bad news. These tick bombs are filled with rapid runners that are scurrying to cover pets, legs and clothes; and they are causing little red spots after they get to your skin and bite you. 

Folks have been misidentifying these creatures as itch mites or chiggers. Alas, though these lone star larvae lack that tell-tale single star, they are lone star ticks in their most plentiful stage. The only good news to share about the larval stage of the lone star tick is that they don’t cause the very serious diseases of the species’ other stages.   

Let’s get to life cycle. A single adult female lone star tick can lay up to 5,000 eggs in a mass. No wonder we are becoming inundated. The eggs are only the size of the period at the end of this sentence, and the group of these eggs are about one inch wide, comparable to the size of a quarter.   

These glassy brownish eggs — which cannot be destroyed by squishing or drowning — hatch into those six-legged larvae that need a blood meal in order to molt into their next nymph stage. To find that meal, they set to questing, hanging off the end of a plant to grab onto their prey, which can include rodents, small and medium-sized mammals, and big ‘uns like us. These ticks also run — very fast — and can grab onto your knees and be at the top of your head in seconds. 

After their first feast, they will molt into a nymph stage. Nymphs need another blood meal to transform into the adult form. Unlike the larvae, nymphs and adults can transmit diseases including ehrlichiosis, tularemia, rocky mountain spotted fever, STARI borreliosis and the alpha-gal allergy. Lone star ticks do not carry Lyme disease, though one can get a similar rash after a bite that resembles the Lyme rash.  Small consolation!

It is difficult to battle these little beasts. Even writing about them gives me the creeps.

Experts stress prevention and habitat management. Most of us know the clothes suggestions: long pants tucked into socks, repellents for both your body and clothes. Habitat suggestions include keeping a yard free of leaf litter, trimming ground-hanging branches and removing brush and wood piles to reduce humidity and moisture, which the ticks love.  

No matter what you do, these ticks are sure to continue to cause distress and disease. That fact — along with those terrible trends in Texas — keeps me, like those tortuous ticks, trying to find something good to hold onto.

Suzan Bellincampi is islands director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and the Nantucket Wildlife Sanctuaries. She is also the author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.