A new study finds that deer ticks can survive the cold winter in northern Maine

(Courtesy of the TickEncounter Resource Center)

New research suggests that disease-carrying deer ticks can survive the deep cold of Maine’s winter in the right conditions — even in far northern Maine.

The findings come from a study at the University of Maine, where researchers compared tick winter survival rates at sites across the state. The study found that in areas with insulating leaf litter and snow pack, more ticks were able to survive.

University of Maine senior research associate Elissa Ballman says ticks were even able to survive in those conditions in far northern areas of the state, such as Presque Isle. She said that could potentially mean further spread of ticks from the coast towards northern, inland areas in the future.

“I do think it’s possible we’re going to continue to see these ticks spreading further north, establishing populations more widely across the state,” Ballman said. “So it’s something we have to really learn to live with.”

Ballman said it’s likely that other factors have led to the reduced density of deer ticks in in northern Maine so far, including fewer deer and more coniferous forests there.

She said that homeowners can help reduce ticks near their homes by removing leaves or mulching them, instead of raking them to the edge of the woods.

“So really raking your leaves or mulching them really fine in the lawn, so things really dry up, and they don’t have that nice leaf litter to hide under in the winter,” she said.

Officials have reported that the tick season appears to be lengthening in Maine in recent years.

This story was originally published by Maine Public, a partner of the New England News Collaborative.

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