Tick Sampling in the Virginia Peninsula–an overview of the summer thusfar

It’s now about mid-way through the summer and I’ve sampled approximately half of my study sites.  I’ve visited 66 (of about 125) transects and collected ticks.  Areas visited so far include the Colonial Parkway, York River State Park,  the Greensprings trail area and land owned by Colonial Williamsburg.


Sampling is going pretty well, and I’m feeling really optimistic about finishing all the sites by the end of July.  Despite some hitches here and there–GPS malfunctions,  rained-out days and lots and lots of tripping over logs and sliding down muddy hillsides–there haven’t been any large-scale fiascoes, and you have to expect little things to go wrong.  After all, that’s fieldwork.


On the plus side, we (my partner James and I)  have avoided a lot of the pesky forest critters that have the potential to make work in the field incredibly uncomfortable.  Neither one of us has gotten chiggers, we have yet to step in a nest of seed ticks (the larval version of ticks that swarm up your boots in hundreds if not thousands)  and the only snakes we’ve seen have been black rat snakes, nothing venomous.


In terms of tick collecting itself, it appears to be a bit of an off season.  While we find ticks at nearly every site we visit, the numbers are much lower than last year.  We’ve never found more than about 150 at any one site, and even finding them at this magnitude is rare.  The most ticks we’ve found so far on one 3m drag of the canvas sheet is 49 (47 nymphs and 2 adults).  Last summer, the numbers of collected ticks were much higher and over 100 ticks were found on the flag after a single 3m segment.  One reason for this could be the slight difference in the sampling time.  Last summer, tick collection did not begin until July, while we began in June this year.  Later in the summer, as research continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if we begin to find many more ticks at some sites.  However, the other people in our lab have noted that they have found many fewer ticks on their clothing this year, and that, time of summer aside, it seems as though there are fewer ticks out this year.


What will happen later in the season remains to be seen, and I’m curious to compare our completed data set to previous years to be able to have a more concrete assessment of the changes in tick populations and distributions.


  1. This past summer has been one of the wettest in recent years. This fact could be the reason for decreased tick numbers.