Only one sure thing about deer ticks: They will be out there

Close up photo of adult female deer tick crawling on piece of straw; Shutterstock ID 342282746; PO: OPED
Many variables affect tick population size, but even one tick still poses risks. –Steve Ellingson / Shutterstock

Tufts University professor Sam R. Telford III responded with a prolonged guffaw the other day when he heard the question, the same one he gets every spring: Will Massachusetts have a big population of deer ticks this year?

“Every year I’ve been wrong,” said Telford, who demurred this time. “It’s not because I don’t know anything about ticks.” Quite the contrary: A specialist in diseases transmitted by animals, he has spent decades studying the eight-legged fiends known to entomologists as Ixodes scapularis and to the rest of us as the bugs that transmit Lyme disease.

And one thing Telford has learned is that the tick census is unpredictable. Too many variables affect population size — variables so numerous and hyperlocal that one person’s yard can be teeming while the next door neighbor’s is pristine.

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