In Delaware, ticks don't usually show up until early March. This year, however, Backpacker
reports that state environmental scientist Wil Winter discovered a lone star tick on February 11, three weeks earlier than usual. Lone stars don't usually carry Lyme disease
, one of the most commonly-known tick-borne illnesses, but they can transmit other disorders dangerous to humans, including tularemia
and alpha-gal syndrome
, a disease that can cause a potentially deadly red meat allergy. Delaware tick biologist Ashley Kennedy says the presence of the lone star tick last month signifies a broader shift in the parasite's distribution and behavior nationwide—a shift that spells bad news for nature-lovers in many places.
Delaware, after all, isn't the only state where ticks are showing up earlier than usual. TV station WILX of Lansing, Michigan, reports that Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services said ticks have swelled in numbers there, leading to more winter tick bites, once a relatively rare phenomenon. NPR also recently aired a feature from Connecticut Public Radio that blames the rising tick population in New England—and earlier appearances of the pests—on warmer winters.
Dr. Megan Linske, a scientist with New Haven Connecticut's Agricultural Experiment Station, tells the station that "everybody is looking for the scapegoat when it comes to vector-borne diseases and ticks and tick-borne diseases." And according to Linske, "climate change is a big one." Warmer winters, Linske says, remove a "limiting factor" on tick population growth. As a result, she predicts "we're going to see more of them establish in the Northeast as well." (Read more health stories.)