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Could the upcoming cold snap kill ticks that are still active this winter?

Warming winters have extended the amount of time ticks are active in New England.

HARTFORD, Connecticut — Even though it’s winter, ticks are still out there. FOX61 has heard from viewers finding them on themselves and their pets.

Some are wondering what the upcoming cold snap could mean for the tick population in southern New England, and we brought those questions to a local expert.

Dr. Goudarz Molaei is the Director of Tick and Tick-borne Pathogen Surveillance Program and explained usually ticks go into an inactive or dormancy period in the winter, but that period of time has become shorter in recent decades.

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In the past, the state lab used to receive around 50 tick sample submissions during the winter; in recent years, that number has increased to nearly 800.

"Usually ticks are quite resilient, deer ticks are the most pervasive and abundant in our region. These ticks adjust to the temperature," Dr. Molaei said. When the temperature drops below freezing, ticks tend to find a way to protect themselves, either hiding under leaf litter or even underneath snow cover, which can provide some insulation.

This winter has been quite warm and snowless, with no snow on the ground in most of Connecticut right now. 

"During that time if ticks do not find any shelter or if there is no snow on the ground they may suffer some mortality, but it is not the case that this kind of bitterly cold temperature would kill them all," Dr. Molaei said.

Since the temperatures look to quickly spike again next week, you'll likely continue to find ticks in usual areas.

So the bottom line is – ticks are active in Connecticut year-round now – and this brief cold snap will probably not kill off ticks in big numbers.

Dr. Molaei said what we are seeing now is a direct result of our warming winters and climate change, extending the season for tick activity.

Additionally, the hosts from which ticks obtain their blood are more active, such as deer or even rodents. These hosts are how ticks can pick up infections, and later bring that infection to humans.

Ryan Breton is a meteorologist at FOX61 News. He can be reached at rbreton@fox61.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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