Here at the Nature Centre, we believe that being outdoors is vitally important to human health. We love exploring and stewarding natural spaces in High Park and know that many of you share in our love of being outdoors in green spaces across the city. These green spaces are home to wild birds, insects, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Living among these wild creatures is one of the benefits of having such rich biodiversity in Toronto, however, it can be really scary when some of the animals we share the city with pose a risk to our wellbeing.
As you have likely seen in the media, ticks are one such creature that can present a hazard. Ticks are very slow arachnids (cousins of spiders and other 8-legged invertebrates). They cannot fly or jump. Ticks climb up to the tips of grasses or shrubs and wait for a creature to brush up against it. The tick then climbs aboard to feed on its host over several days. While feeding, a tick can pass diseases on to their host. One of those diseases could be Lyme disease but it is very important to note that not all ticks transmit disease.
Three species of ticks have been reported in Toronto. Blacklegged tick (a.k.a. deer tick) is the species that can transmit Lyme disease. American dog ticks are more common than blacklegged ticks. Brown dog ticks are more rare and generally live indoors. American dog ticks and brown dog ticks do not transmit Lyme, but can carry other disease-causing bacteria. For identification and habitat info, click here.
Based on Toronto Public Health’s tick surveillance program, blacklegged ticks have not been reported in High Park. However, blacklegged tick populations are becoming established in Toronto and ticks infected with Lyme disease-causing bacteria have recently been found in a few locations in Toronto (e.g. Algonquin Island on the Toronto Islands and parts of Rouge Park).
Being “tick smart” and learning about ticks and the hazards they present will go a long way in keeping you and your family safe while still spending as much time outdoors as possible.
Here are some suggestions for “tick smart” outdoor adventures:
If you do find any type of tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible with fine-tipped tweezers using the instructions here. Do not squeeze or burn the tick off – doing so could cause the tick to inject Lyme disease-causing bacteria into your body (if the tick carries the bacteria). Place the removed tick in a jar and bring it to one of the Toronto Public Health offices listed here for identification and testing. Submitting the tick to Toronto Public Health helps in tracking tick populations and their movement within Toronto.
Toronto Public Health has an excellent fact sheet about Lyme disease and ticks that can be downloaded here.
Despite ticks becoming established in our city and the fear that this can bring, we encourage everyone to continue to get outside and connect with the natural spaces that we are so fortunate to have! Being “tick smart” and learning about ticks and the hazards they present will go a long way in keeping you and your family safe while still spending as much time outdoors as possible.