Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Ticks are everyone's favorite creepy.

This is true because ticks are creepier than most things. You can find a tick crawling up your leg days after you've been anywhere. And if you find it, it's most likely because you accidentally see the tick, not because you feel anything. That's pretty creepy.

Or maybe you just brush your hand along your neck or scratch a spot on your scalp, and come back with a tick caught under a fingernail. That's pretty creepy too.

Resolved: Ticks are creepy.

You can be extra cautious around lush streams and ponds, but that might not help. Sometimes they lurk even in hot, dry shrubbery, and ticks have several life stages too. During the larval or nymph stages ticks can be so small they're hardly visible, but a tick bite from any disease-carrying individual can still put you down for decades.

Recently I came across two tools that might help. One is the "Tick Twister" and the other is the "Trix TickLasso". I haven't used either but they both look good.

Normally I've used the blade of a knife, slowly slid sideways from the tick's head toward its tail. Push down hard enough and the fluid pressure in the skin pops the tick out without any chance of killing or dismembering it. I do the killing after it's out.

This can be a little awkward to do alone, like the time I came home and found one at waist level, at the back of my pelvis. Had to sit on the bathroom counter with two mirrors and try this. Ended up digging out a chunk of hide in the process.

Either of these tools look like they'd do a much better job.

Tick Twister

The Tick Twister is a plastic hook shaped a little like a nail puller. In fact, the first prototype was made from a nail bent and cut into this shape. It comes in two sizes, and there is a new model that hangs on a key chain.

You slide it around the tick's head and then twist (after lodging the head into the tool's V notch). That sort of unscrews the tick without damaging it. It works on bare skin or in fur. (In case you have fur, or are close to someone who does.)

Trix TickLasso

The Trix TickLasso looks a little more complicated. At first I thought maybe this was more solution than the problem needed, but maybe it's better. I say this without even having seen either one of these.

The Trix TickLasso is shaped like a thick pen, but with a lasso at the bottom end. You loop this around any size of tick, tighten gently, and then twirl the tick around until it comes out, the same as with the other tool.

Either one would probably work pretty well, but this second one will handle any tick you find.

The Tick Twister is French and the Trix TickLasso is Swedish. Apparently they've thought about this enough to make special tools for it. A quick check indicates that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends using a tweezers, which is (based on my limited experience) probably the worst way to try this.

Something else not to do is to try a hot match, a cigarette, hand lotion, petroleum jelly, or other things. I went through all those back in my (short) Scouting days, and they all kill the tick without doing anything else. A dead tick still stuck in your skin can regurgitate back into your bloodstream, and the tick's mouthparts are barbed, which makes it hard to pull straight out, as the CDC recommends.

Twisting seems better.

Luckily, I'm now living in western Washington, and we don't have many ticks here, which is really nice.

The CDC method
Tick Twister
Trix TickLasso
Ticks on Dartmoor