Saturday, 26 April 2014

Tick tubes

Springtime is the season of cute fluffy lambs, ickle yellow chicks and tits in me box (nesting box, you filthy animals!). It's also the season of evil shitbag ticks roaming about waving their vile little legs, waiting for some poor creature to brush on past whilst doing the gardening or foraging for a tasty morsel.

Then I saw this cute little fella (wood mouse??) in our garden, I thought, mmm..adorable as you are, you're probably carrying ticks and you could well be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi (see this study in the netherlands). Wood mice can infect larval ticks with Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. according to this swedish study and  this german study.

There are some things you can do to stop these demon ticks embedding themselves in your flesh and sucking the life force out of you- see this excellent easter blog post by tick talk Ireland on preventative measures and this page by BADA-UK. My personal weapons of choice are pictured below. DEET is normally recommended as the most effective repellent but I don't like using it and it's not suitable for young children. BADA-UK say that Mosiguard natural (which contains the natural product citridiol) is as effective as DEET, and I know on midges it is very effective. I also like Autan (which contains Icaridin).I should add that it's important to put repellents on where ticks are likely to get access to your skin. I put it on hands, wrists, lower legs, waist and neck, plus my daughters hairline.

When I am well enough to start hillwalking again, I will impregnate some clothing with permethrin (the lifesystems product pictured), as permethrin impregnated clothing has been shown to be very effective in preventing tick bites.

I keep this arsenal handy from April-October and even use repellent on a warm winters day if I'm doing something tick-risky.

This year though, I have added a new and excitingly home-made tool to my 'nuke the buggers' toolbox. Tick tubes are cardboard tubes filled with permethrin-impregnated cotton wool or other natural nesting material. The idea is that mice take the cotton wool into their nests and in doing so, kill all their fleas and ticks and thus help to reduce the number of ticks milling about locally. There are commercially available tick tubes from a company called Damminix and these have been shown to be very effective in one recent study. A friend has used these in their garden and they say that after they started using them they saw no ticks at all in their garden whereas before they'd had quite a few and family members had been bitten in the garden. Damminix tick tubes are not available in the UK,  to my knowledge, and so I thought I'd make my own (plus I'm a skinflint!).

So here's how I did it:

Toilet roll inners, cotton wool balls, Lifesystems permethrin spray, some disposible gloves, a bit of cardboard to spray the balls on and acrylic paint to attempt to waterproof the tubes a bit. Sorry can't seem to rotate the photo!

I thought painting the tubes in acrylic paint first would help to stop the cotton going soggy and might stop the tubes disintegrating too fast. I wore disposible gloves when handling the permethrin or permethrin soaked balls. BTW I'm not paid by lifesystems or anything, I just bought that because it was in a handy spray, available from a UK seller, contained only permethrin (I didn't want to use other, potentially more toxic insecticides) and wasn't a huge volume of product that I'd have to later dispose of.

I used cardboard to spray the cotton balls on and dry them on as this can be binned rather than having to wipe down a surface with a cloth which would potentially allow permethrin to get into a water course if I rinsed out the cloth. Permethrin has very low toxicity to most mammals but it highly toxic to aquatic organisms so please take precautions to avoid swilling any of it down the sink. It is also highly toxic to cats, so if you have cats, perhaps best to not impregnate clothing with it. This is the reason I put only four balls per tube as I didn't want any cotton sticking out of the end where cats could get to it. I don't have cats but my neigbours do.

Stuffing me tubes

It took a whole day for the permethrin soaked balls to dry, you don't want to put them wet into the tubes- not very attractive as a mouse duvet!

Place the tubes where mice are likely to stumble upon them. Mice don't generally like being out in the open, so behind pots and containers, near walls with crevices, alongside fences and at the backs of borders. Also perhaps under a bird feeder as mice do love a bit of discarded bird seed.

Worth a shot I reckon, and pretty cheap. I haven't noticed ticks in my garden, but we do have deer and sheep just across the road, and I have plenty of birds which are competant hosts for Borrelia. We've even had a pheasant on our lawn before, also a competent host.

I has been pointed out to me that permethrin is listed here as banned in the European Union. However, I think it might have been banned just as a plant protection product due to it's affects on aquatic organisms should it get into water courses (see this bafflingly opaque EU directive). As far as I can make out, it's still allowed as a human and veterinary medicine (e.g. head lice treatment and tick and flea treatment for dogs), wood preservative, a spot treatment as an insecticide/acaricide and on some textiles (see this document). I reckon it's use in tick tubes would fall within these allowed applications. If someone else knows differently, let me know!

Just to reiterate, don't throw it in watercourses or down the sink as it will kill aquatic organisms and don't let cats come into contact with it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Brilliant idea Nicola. Of course if you know a friendly builder or plumber they might be able to give you some offcuts of plastic water-pipe which would be totally weather proof.