If ticks really freak you out, like they do most of my family, maybe you shouldn’t read the rest of this.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are trying to figure out ways to prevent ticks from spreading diseases and bacteria. About 30,000 cases of Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks, are reported each year. The disease had spread to 40 states by 2015, according to the university.

Ticks also carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and an unusual sickness that can make people allergic to red meat. Zoonosis is what they call a disease transmitted by live animals.

In addition to being carriers of sickness, ticks are sturdy little pests. They are arachnids, not insects. Their relatives are spiders, mites and even scorpions. Ticks have been around since the dinosaur era, 90 million years ago, and each tick can live up to six years.

Montanans tend worry about ticks in the springtime, especially around rivers and streams. But they can actually survive quite cold temperatures. In one UC study, ticks stayed alive for at least two weeks when the temperatures hovered in the 20s.

When the thermometer dropped to minus 9 for more than two hours, however, the ticks died. So there is an upside to cold winter weather. 

A UC study also found that ticks could survive a long time without water and could survive for up to 18 weeks without food. It’s no wonder we don’t like ticks.

Follow-up note: Two people contacted me to say that the lower-case i found on trees marking trails, which I wrote about in this column on Sept. 13, is Morse code for the letter A — a dot followed by a dash (although Morse code is learned horizontally and not vertically). One person said the A referred to a main trail, the other said it referred to the Department of Agriculture. If anyone can find a written reference to this, please let me know.

— Brett French, Billings Gazette

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