Deer tagging stations offer a unique view of ticks carrying diseases across a warmer Maine

Chuck Lubelczyk, a vector ecologist a the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, was recently plucking ticks and taking blood samples from deer brought to a tagging station in Wells to help track diseases such as Lyme. (Patty Wight/Maine Public)

York County is the historical epicenter in Maine for vector-borne diseases. Since deer ticks first appeared in southern portions of the state in the late 1980s, they’ve gained a strong foothold — as have the diseases they carry, such as Lyme, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. York County is also home to the state’s only human cases of the mosquito-borne disease Eastern equine encephalitis.

But as the climate changes, Maine is becoming more hospitable to these vectors and diseases — and could see even more.

This story is part of Maine Public’s series “Climate Driven: A deep dive into Maine’s response, one county at a time.”

One of the best places to monitor for ticks and mosquito-borne diseases is at deer tagging stations, like the one at Meserve’s Market in Wells. On a recent morning, hunter Bob Perry pulls in with a deer he bagged just hours ago in the back of his truck.

“Oh yeah. Look. There’s a tick right there on his face, there’s a tick back there, and there were some small black ones crawling around. I don’t know if that’s one there, but they were crawling all over him,” says fellow hunter Darren Roberts.

The sight of a carcass crawling with ticks might make most people recoil, but vector ecologist Chuck Lubelczyk from the Maine Medical Center Research Institute dives in. He uses tweezers to pluck out the ticks — which can swell to the size of a blueberry — and drops them into a vial. As Bob Perry watches, he laments how bad the deer tick problem has become.

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