By Jane Marshall

Ticks are so small and unassuming that for years, I barely gave them a thought. They aren’t like an eminent avalanche, a falling rock, or a bear. It wasn’t until my family and I sat in a springtime forest in the south Kananaskis and found them on our pants that we became more aware. They are tiny, tricky, and designed to be unnoticed so they can attach and feed.

After our Kananaskis hike, we drove home to Edmonton, where we were living at the time. The next morning my husband Mike came to me looking worried and pale.

“I felt something on my leg this morning. It was a tick.” He showed me the little body. Luckily it hadn’t embedded, but the creature had managed to hitch a ride north on Highway 2 with the intention to get very personal with my husband.

A mother spraying her child with bug spray on a hike.

Since the Breathe Outdoors family loves the outdoors, I want readers to avoid a similar situation. Here’s reliable info from an Alberta Environment and Parks specialist.

Jane: Please tell us about yourself.

Dr. Pybus: My name is Dr. Margo Pybus. I am the Provincial Wildlife Disease Specialist with Fish and Wildlife at Alberta Environment and Parks. I head up Alberta’s wildlife disease unit as we collectively deliver the province’s ongoing disease diagnostic, surveillance, and response programs involving a wide range of disease agents in a wide range of wild species.

Jane: What exactly is a tick? How big are they, and how can we identify them?

Dr. Pybus: A tick is NOT an insect! Ticks are closely related to spiders and thus have 8 legs (insects only have 6). Ticks can range in size quite a bit depending on the species of tick and whether or not they have recently filled up on blood. But most ticks are big enough to be quite visible with the human eye.

Jane: How common are ticks in Alberta?

Dr. Pybus: Very common. There are quite a few different tick species that live in Alberta but two stand out above the rest. These are the winter ticks that live primarily on moose and the wood tick that lives on a variety of wild mammals throughout its life.

We have tick information available here on our wildlife disease web pages.

Jane: When is tick season?

Dr. Pybus: The wood tick is the type of tick that can end up on people. Early spring in the foothills is when adult wood ticks are seeking a new host to live on for the next stage of their life. They occur on low vegetation (grasses and shrubs) and sometimes latch onto passing people. In particular, April and May are prime activity seasons for adult wood ticks.

For other ticks, spring and fall are the most active periods.

Read here for specific info on the WOOD TICK.

Did You Know?

Wood ticks like to travel! As young larvae and nymphs they live on rodents and rabbits. As they mature, they hang out in low grasses and shrubs. Then they hop onto passing deer, elk, mountain goats, porcupines, and bighorn sheep.

A finger with a tick on it in front of a dog laying in grass.

Jane: We often hear about ticks and Lyme disease. Is it possible to get Lyme disease in Alberta?

Dr. Pybus: Ticks that can transmit Lyme disease are uncommon in Alberta. Fortunately so are the Lyme disease bacteria. However, anyone bitten by any tick (if the tick has embedded itself in your skin) should try to collect the tick and take it with them when they consult with a physician.

Check out this article: Lyme Disease in Alberta

Jane: For readers with dogs, what’s the best way to prevent a dog from bringing ticks into the house?

Dr. Pybus: Dog owners should check closely anytime after dogs run through tall grass and shrubs, but particularly in spring and early summer. Read up on how to properly remove any ticks already embedded in skin. Consult a veterinarian if you suspect the tick was on the dog for more than a few hours.

Thank you to Dr. Pybus!

A few more tips for tick safety:

How to Prevent Tick Bites

  • Wear long sleeves
  • Wear closed shoes
  • Tuck your pants into your socks
  • Insect repellent with DEET is effective
  • Wood ticks live in the foothills and mountains; check yourself and your dog if you’ve been in these areas

Tweezers holding a tick

If a Tick Bites You and Embeds: What to Do

  • Use tweezers
  • Gently grasp the tick at its mouth, as close to your skin as possible
  • Pull it off slowly so it can release its mouthparts (you don’t want these to break off in your skin)
  • DO NOT squeeze the tick; it could force bacteria/disease into your body
  • Take the tick to your doctor

Buy a Tick Removal Device

Buy a Tick Removal Kit as recommended by the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation