Deer Tick, a Questing Bloodsucker

Even if bloodsucking arachnids make you scratch, it’s worth spending a few minutes learning about the behaviors of this tiny creature who survives by hitching rides and drinking blood. While ticks have the potential to spread serious disease, if you know where they hang-out, how do inspections, and how to properly remove them, you can minimize the danger to yourself, your family, and your pets.

Where Ticks Hang-out

Deer ticks are found in places near potential hosts. In Nevada County, those include; deer, squirrel, mice, rabbits, birds, lizards, woodrats, bobcats, skunks, gophers, dogs, cats, humans and other animals with blood.

Blood meals are required for growth. Black-legged ticks (aka Deer Ticks) are hard-bodied and require a host to progress through each life stage. Between meals, they wait, often going into diapause, a state of suspended development.

When not connected to a host, ticks require cool moist places like;

  • leaf litter
  • overgrown shrubs
  • high grass
  • wooded areas
  • woodpiles
  • low branches
  • logs
  • bird feeders
  • moisture-retaining garden features such as mulch or stone walls


Ticks  do not;

  •  jump
  • drop from trees
  • fly 

They only crawl and climb. To move long distances, ticks must do so while attached to a host.


How Ticks Sense Hosts and Know When to Ready Their Grappling Hooks

  • body odor
  • vibration
  • heat
  • breath
  • moisture
questing tick larvae

Questing Behavior

Questing is when a tick prepares to latch onto a host. Like a pirate with a grappling hook, a tick perches at the end of grass blades or branches, waiting with outstretched front legs.  After hooking onto hair or clothing, the tick begins to ascend. They travel up, looking for locations with thinner skin and for places where hosts cannot reach.

Questing Black-legged (Deer) tick. Photo Credit: National Park Service
Newtown Rd. bobcat with an engorged tick. Photo Credit: Terry & Anita Hansen

 Life Span

In warm climates, a tick’s life span may only last a year. In Nevada County, where it’s cold, a tick has a three-year life span. 

Fall through Winter

Tick life starts out as an egg.

Larvae hatch with six legs. *They go into diapause, suspended development, whenever weather conditions are not ideal.


 The larva attaches to a host – usually a small animal –  for its first blood meal – which can last from days to weeks – then drops off.

Summer through Winter

After molting, a larva becomes a nymph, gains two additional legs, and overwinters in this stage.

2nd Spring

Nymphs seek out a host for a second blood meal – which can last from days to weeks – then drops off.

2nd Summer through Winter

Nymphs molt into adults and overwinter in this stage.

3rd Spring

Adults seek out a third blood meal – usually on a large animal – where they feed and mate through the summer.  Males die after mating.

3rd Fall

Females drop off the host to lay eggs on the ground. She’ll lay about twenty eggs a day and can lay over a thousand in a month-and-a-half. At this life stage, most of her body weight is comprised of the eggs. When she’s finished laying, her body collapses.

*Engorged females, ready to lay eggs will look for soil as a first choice, but if she drops off inside a house, she will seek places like hampers, bathroom rugs, or a pile of damp laundry.


Life stages: larvae, nymph, adult male and female.


Using diapause, ticks can survive long periods of drought. They can also survive underwater for two to three days and can last for two years without a blood meal.

Most Active

Adult black-legged ticks (aka Deer Ticks) are most active after the first frost in fall and again in spring.

Squirrels Carry Bacteria

In California, the Western gray squirrel is known to harbor the bacterium –Borrelia burgdorferi– that causes Lyme Disease. Ticks pick this up during their first or second blood meal.

Lizards – Western Lyme Heros


Western Fence Lizard with tick Photo Credit Jerry Kirkhart

While in the larva or nymph stage, ticks frequently find lizard hosts. 

Alligator lizard with ticks. Photo Credit Steve Jervetson

A protein in lizard blood kills the Lyme disease causing bacteria.


Lizards may be the reason Lyme Disease is not as prevalent in the western states as it is in the east.

Once a tick is finished with its lizard liquid, the bacteria won’t be transmitted to the next host.


Ants, frogs, lizards, poultry, and opossums.

Tick Inspection & Bite Prevention

  • Wear light-colored clothes – long pants + long-sleeved shirts.
  • Apply bug spray with at least 20% Deet. (Permethrin on clothes only.)
  • Keep to the middle of the trail and try not to brush against branches or grass.
  • Frequently stop to check pant legs for ticks.
  • Check companions for ticks in places they can’t see. 
  • Also do periodic checks on animals, focusing on head, ears, and neck.
  • If possible, shower within two hours of spending time in a tick zones.

Tick Removal 

Because ticks have numbing agents in their saliva, you won’t feel it when mouthparts penetrate.

With tweezers, grab the tick close to the skin and pull straight out.

Ticks & Disease

“Ticks transmit the widest variety of pathogens of any blood-sucking arthropod, including bacteria, rickettsiae, protozoa, and viruses,” comments Larisa Vredevoe, Ph.D, Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis

**It’s important to remove ticks as soon as possible. It takes between 36 to 48 hours for a Borrelia burgdorferi carrier tick to transmit the bacteria from the gut to the salivary glands.

Interactive Lyme Disease and Tick Survey

From the data on the Interactive Lyme Disease and Tick Survey,

the majority of Lyme disease causing ticks in Nevada County come from the South Yuba River watershed.

Nevada County Cases of Lyme Disease

Between 2000 and 2016, Nevada County reported 48 cases of Lyme Disease

Nevada County, incidence per 100,000 person-years = 2.73

The highest risk counties in California are; Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino.

Seek Medical Attention

If a rash or skin irritation occurs after a tick bite, promptly seek medical attention.

Lyme Rash
click image to purchase or view entire Life on the Creek design collection

If you’re not too ‘bugged’ by this post, you might also like Fleas and Disease in the California Gold Rush 


Bay Area Lyme Foundation – Are Deer to Blame?

California Department of Public Health – Lyme Disease

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Tick prevention, removal, symptoms, and data

Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology – Blocking pathogen transmission at the source: reservoir targeted OspA-based vaccines against Borrelia burgdorferi

John Hopkins Lyme Disease  Research Center – Preventing Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease Association – Tick Removal

Nevada County Tick ID & Testing & Q and A PDF’s

Nevada County Reports of Lyme disease by the year

New York Times – Lyme Diseases’s Worst Enemy? It Might be Foxes

SF Gate – Lizards Slow Lyme Disease in West / Ticks bite them – and leave with purified blood

San Mateo County Mosquito & Vector Control District – Lizards, Ticks and Lyme Disease

Smithsonian Magazine (VIDEO)Mother tick laying eggs

The Union (2008) Ticks that cause Lyme disease are prevalent in county

UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology – California Ticks  &  Tick Biology

University of California, Berkeley – Feeding on lizard blood strips ticks of dangerous Lyme disease bacterium

University of California San Francisco (2018) Lyme Disease is on the Rise – An Expert Explains Why

University of California San Francisco – Gene Signature Could Lead to a New Way of Diagnosing Lyme

WebMD – All about Ticks FAQ 2019


Saliva Studies

Mating & Egg Laying

University of California TV – Lyme Disease – History and Current Controversies (2013)

Bat – a Colonial Insectivore

Bats are the only flying mammals. Wing membranes are attached to their fingers. After rodents, they are the largest order of Earth animals. 

Microbats live in California. they are insectivores and can eat their weight in insects daily. (Large bats, such as the Fruit Bat, also known as a Flying Fox, live in tropical climates.)


Roosts, which can contain up to thirty generations of family members, are used for protection, warmth, grooming, eating, resting, and mating. Roosting sites include caves, mines, bridges, buildings, crevices, and tree hollows. Bats are nocturnal. They leave their roosts at dusk to hunt and drink water at night.

Since roosts are where large numbers of bats congregate, it’s a system that provides fertile conditions for the spread of diseases such as, rabies, histoplasmosis, and other viruses. Roosts are where White-nose syndrome is spreading (see below).

The Mexican free-tailed bat or Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) is a migrating bat native to the Americas. Since it roosts in large numbers in few locations, it’s vulnerable to habitat destruction. This bat is considered a species of special concern in California because of declining populations.

Environmental Obstacles:

A keystone species, bats keep ecosystems healthy by controlling insect populations, but they’ve got obstacles. Habitat loss and destruction of roosting sites, wind farms on migratory pathways, and drought are a few.  White-nose syndrome, a muzzle and wing flesh-eating fungus, has decimated bat populations across North America.

Some good news for California bats may be forest lands opened up by wildfires.  UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Zachary Steel found that certain bat populations have increased in burned forests. The causes are still under study but causes may be increased food sources, roosting locations in dead trees, and/or more space for flight maneuverability 

Special Adaptations:

Bats hunt with echolocation, sounds out of human hearing range that help locate prey.

While bats can use their mouths to catch prey, most bugs are caught in their wing membranes and either eaten in the air or carried to a roosting spot.

Bats have bendy bones which makes them ultra maneuverable. Some say bats have the fastest horizontal flying speed of any animal, close to 99 miles per hour!

Among roosting bats that create large quantities of urine and guano, they’ve developed respiratory mucous Ph buffer. 

Torpor is an important adaptation for microbats. It can range from a partial state of heterothermic arousal to full hibernation. Lowing body temperature reduces the need for food and fat storage.

A new study by University of California, Berkeley, researchers shows that bats’ brain activity is literally in sync when bats engage in social behaviors like grooming, fighting or sniffing each other.

Using scent markers and sound, mothers can locate their own babies out of thousands.

Life Span

10-20 years


  • mosquitos
  • moths
  • beetles
  • dragonflies
  • flies
  • wasps
  • ants
  • grasshoppers
  • termites


Photo Credit: Mnolf

Females can breed after 9 months of age, they congregate in maternity roosts.
Males become sexually mature at two years.
Gestation is about three months.
Generally, one pup is born per year. 
Young suckle for between four to seven weeks.
Mother’s must eat their body weight in insects to keep up with nursing demands.


  • owls
  • hawks
  • falcons

Roosts may come under predation from:

  • climbing animals
  • cats
  • coyote
  • raccoon
  • some species of snakes

Bat Species in Nevada County

  • California Myotis, MYOTIS CALIFORNICUS
  • Fringed Myotis, MYOTIS THYSANODES
  • Little Brown Myotis, MYOTIS LUCIFUGUS
  • L0ng-eared Myotis, MYOTIS EVOTIS
  • Long-legged Myotis, MYOTIS VOLANS
  • Mexican Free-tail, TADARIDA BRASILIENSIS (migratory)

White-Nose Syndrome

“WNS is considered one of the deadliest wildlife diseases, having killed over six million North American bats since it was discovered,” said CDFW Wildlife Veterinarian and Epidemiologist Dr. Deana Clifford. “WNS doesn’t affect human health or pets, but the ecological impacts of bat die-offs may indirectly impact agricultural systems through loss of the natural pesticide effect and nutrient cycling of bats.”

As of spring 2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife detected white-nose syndrome in bats in Chester, Plumas County.

Californians Can Help By:

Cavers/Spelunkers Can:

Click image to see more Life on the Creek art. Five dollars from every sale goes toward supporting the documentary project.


California Department of  Fish and Wildlife – Deadly Bat Fungus Detected in California

Corkys Pest –Bat Identification 

Northern California Bats – Education, Lectures, Rescue & Resources

Sierra Club – A Song of Bats and Fire

Smithsonian Magazine – What is Killing the Bats?

UC, Berkeley – Bats Brains Sync when they Socialize

USGS – What is White-nose Syndrome?

Washington Post – The batty history of bats in the military and why this new idea just might work

White Nose Syndrom Response Team

Wikipedia – Bat

Wikipedia – Maternity colony

Wikipedia – Mexican Free-tail bat


AUSTIN, TX (May 8, 2019) – Bat Conservation International (BCI) announced today that early signs of the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) have been detected at one of the world’s premier bat conservation sites, Bracken Cave Preserve.

Ladybugs Wind Sail into the Hills

Ladybugs are members of the Coccinellidae family. The Latin translation means ‘scarlet.’

In the US, they’re called Ladybugs. In Europe, they’re Ladybirds. Legend (or internet rumor) says in the middle ages in Europe, farmers prayed to Mother Mary to save blighted crops. Prayers must have been made in spring because Ladybugs came along to save the day.  In this case, ‘Lady’ or ‘Lady’s birds’ refers to Mary Mother of Jesus. Their German name – Marienkafer, translates to Mary Beetles.

In North America, there are 450 species of Ladybugs with California hosting at least 175.

The Convergent Ladybug is native to the North and South American continents. It is easy to identify by convergent (or intersecting) white lines on the pronotum, behind the head.


Solitary for most of the year, Ladybugs like to be near water and ponds. They congregate around food sources which can occupy forests, grasslands, suburban gardens, and agricultural fields.


All Ladybug species prey on soft-bodied plant suckers such as;

  • aphids
  • mealybugs
  • whitefly
  • scale insects
  • plant mites

They’ll also eat;

  • stinkbug eggs and larvae
  • asparagus beetle eggs and larvae
  • potato psyllid eggs and larvae
  • their own eggs and larvae

In the fall, when Ladybugs are preparing to go into diapause, adults will eat pollen to gain extra fat.

Adult ladybugs can eat nearly 50 aphids per day and 5,000 over a lifetime.

Convergent Ladybugs have a special ability to modify their development in times of food scarcity.

Hunting Behavior

Ladybugs use a sense of smell (with antennae) to detect pheromones secreted by aphids and other prey. They also have good eyesight.

Macro shot of ladybug eye.

They’ve been clocked at flying up to 37 miles per hour!


Bleeding Joints, a Defense Mechanism

Like other animals with flashy coloration, this communicates poison. The Ladybug is no exception. When frightened they produce an (alkaloid) chemical that causes a yellow stain. It’s secreted from their joints and has a bitter taste and foul smell. (Larval forms secrete it from the abdominal area.)

Another type of defense is playing dead. Pulling vulnerable legs under its hard shell, a Ladybug can withstand small scale attacks.

Life Cycle and Life Span

Females generally lay between twenty to thirty eggs at one time.

They have two reproductive cycles a year, in spring and fall.

Females will lay eggs in aphid beds so larva have a ready food supply.

All life stages can be found together at the same time.

Adults live for one year. However, temperature and food sources may alter this. In cooler temperatures, adults have been observed living for up to three years.


Ladybug predators include birds and other beetles. If a Ladybug gets too close to an ant colony, they will attack. One-on-one ant and Ladybug relationships are dismissive but polite.

Insect Hibernation – Diapause

When temperatures drop, Ladybugs fly up! High above the ground, wind blows them into the hills (see Ladybug Wash-Ups in Resources below).

Aggregate site selection may be a combination of long-chain hydrocarbons left by previous winter gatherings as well as pheromone sensing. They also seem to enjoy places that receive warm sun rays.

Once temperatures drop below 55º, ladybugs stop flying. Aggregation is for warmth and mating.

Estimates of 37 million beetles have been observed in some aggregate locations.

Biological Pest Management – Invited Invasive Species 

In the late 1800s farmers began experimenting with natural predators to control insect infestations. In the 1920s Southern California citrus growers imported  Australian Ladybugs to combat mealybugs.

Between the 1920s and 1980s American farmers released imported Asian ladybugs in pecan, pine and soybean crops. (The native home-range for the Asian Harlequin is eastern Asia – Siberia and Russia through the Himalayas, China, and Japan. ) Now, Asian Ladybugs – Harmonia axydris, though beneficial, are considered one of the worlds most invasive beetles.

The Harlequin beetles are stronger than the native species. They compete for the same food sources. A success factor may be a single-celled parasite that lives inside them. It exists in all life stages from egg and larva to adult. It’s harmless to the Harlequin but deadly for other species especially if they eat their eggs and larvae.

Color and marking varieties of Asian Harlequin Ladybugs


Problematic Diapause

Asian Harlequin beetles have a problematic habit of aggregating on or in homes. They prefer light-colored buildings and seem to like window screens.

When frightened or disturbed, Asian Harlequin’s may bite, as well as release their chemical defense.

If trapped in food, grapes, or wine they contaminate it with bitter ‘ladybug taint.’

To remove Asian Ladybugs, it’s best to wait until it’s cold and use a vacuum cleaner to suck them into a nylon stocking.



If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy, Pill Bug – Heavy Metal Detector of the Underworld.

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art


click on image to download a free coloring sheet


American Journal of Enology and Viticulture – Influence of Harmonia ayridis on the Sensory Properties of White and Red Wine

Animal Diversity – Hippodamia convergens

Ask an Entomologist – Ladybug Declines in the US (comparing museum collection data)

Bay Nature Magazine – When Thousands of Ladybugs Gather in the Park

Cornell University – Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle  – Insect Diagnostic & Pest Management (PDF)

Hearts Pest Management – Asian Lady Beetles vs. Native Ladybugs

Journal of Insect Science – The multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis by R.L. Koch –

Ladybug Planet – Do Ladybugs Eat Ants? When Ants and Ladybugs Clash!

National Geographic – Learn how the ladybug’s big appetite is a boon to many farmers. Find out the real purpose of their familiar polka-dot pattern.

Nature – Invasive ladybird has a biological weapon by Ed Young

Oxford Academic – Environmental Entomology – Olfactory Response of the Lady beetle Hippodamia convergens

Writing for Nature – The Beneficial Lady Beetles: Good Luck Bugs or God’s Little Cows 

Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences – Department of Entomology – Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle 

Research Gate – University of Florida – ConvergentLady Beetle Hippodamia convergens (PDF) 

Science Direct – Elytron

Science Direct – Beneficial Insects (Ladybug introduction to California) – History of Insect Pathology

ThoughtCo – 10 Facts about ladybugs

University of California at Berkeley – History of Biological Control (PDF)

University of Minnesota – Multiclored Asian Lady Beetle

Wikipedia – biological pest control 

Wikipedia – Coccinellidae

Wikipedia – Harmonia axyridis


University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources – Natural Enemies Handbook


Ladybug Harvesting

Ladybug Wash-Ups

*Biologists speculate that wash-ups are caused by winds blowing in the wrong directions when Ladybugs are preparing to diapause. (Insect hibernate)

Incense Cedar, the Pencil Tree

A burned, sometimes smoldering,  Incense Cedar tree is one of the few places the Cedar Wood Wasp, lays its eggs. This insect is the only living species of its family, making it a ‘living fossil.’

Incense Cedar Wood Wasp – a living fossil

Cedar is commonly used for building and fencing materials. Because the wood is pliable for gripping and resists splintering, it may be best known for its use in pencils.

Hearty, drought tolerant, and accepting of shade and sun, the tree grows at a wide variety of elevations.

Calocedrus decurrens seed cones and seeds

Incense Cedar growing range





Native Americans used Incense Cedar for hunting bows, fire making, baskets, brooms, shelter building, and for ceremonial and healing purposes.




If you enjoyed this post, you may also like, Mugwort – Dream Plant with a Long History

click image to see more Life on the Creek art




Calflora – Calocedrus decurrens

CalPoly – Incense Cedar Tree Detail

Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database

Living Wild Project

Pacific Northwest, Pest Management – Cedar, Incense Broom Rust

Native American Cedar Mythology

USDA – Calocedrus decurrens

Plant Guide [PDF]

Wikipedia – Cedar Wood Wasp

Dragonfly & Damselfly – Moving Object Pathway Predictors

Dragonflies have been around longer than dinosaurs. Except for size, they’ve changed little through time. They’ve gone from a wingspan about the size of an adult shin (between knee and ankle), to palm-sized (stretching between a fully extended thumb and pinky).

Evolutionary biologists believe that size reduction is connected with decreased oxygen levels in the atmosphere.

Dragonflies are fierce hunters, expert flyers, and the subject of artificial intelligence and robot developers.

Recent dragonfly brain studies can now explain the mechanisms behind the aerial acrobatics. Like the human brain, dragonflies have target-detecting neurons that track moving objects and predict where it will go.

Dragonfly Super Skills

  • Approximately 80% of the dragonfly brain devoted to the visual processing
  • Some species can see prey up to 30 feet away
  • Movement detection up to 60 feet away
  • Almost 360⁰ range of vision
  • Hunt capture rate in the high 90% range
  • Seizes prey with feet and eats while flying

Swarm Behavior Studies

Swarm behavior is still not fully understood, but puzzle pieces are falling into place as scientists amass data.

Biologists know there are static (food source) and migratory swarms. The two types may be related.

Generally, both swarm types follow these patterns;

  • They occur more in the midwestern states
  • Take place before a storm that follows a hot, dry spell
  • Happen between July – October with September being the peak
  • They follow coastlines and lakeshores
  • Dragonfly migrations appear to match bird migration patterns

Life Cycle – Up to 5 Years – Most of it Under Water

Mating – Mid to late summer.

Egg-laying – Females lay eggs in still waters on submerged aquatic plants or in shallow areas. In cooler zones, like Nevada County, dragonfly eggs wait until spring to hatch.

Nymph – Molts up to twelve times and can live for as many as four years in the water.

Nymph Diet

Nymphs are voracious eaters, happily dining on;

  • mosquito larvae
  • tadpoles
  • small fish
  • each other

All dragonflies must have clean, fresh water to live.

Adult – The final molt is completed above the water’s surface in late spring or early summer. They live only two to four months before dying.

Adult Dragonfly Diet

  • horseflies
  • mosquitoes
  • bees
  • wasps
  • termites
  • deerflies
  • blackflies
  • midges

Features for Dragonfly Friendly Water Gardens

Dragonflies breed in water. To encourage dragonflies and damselflies, include these features in your pond, trough, or marsh area;

  • water free of pesticides & fertilizers
  • protected from wind
  • well oxygenated
  • receives 5-6 hours of the midday sun
  • flat rocks near pond edges for sunbathing
  • shallow areas (but not so shallow it dries up)
  • aquatic vegetation, especially reeds and lilies
  • cover for final molting safety
  • tall above water plants for perching
[foogallery id=”2424″]


Cultural Symbolism

Websites devoted to dragonfly symbolism are diverse! The meaning that cultures apply to dragonflies seems to be as diverse as the people who observe them. Below are a few examples.

Change, Transformation & Adaptability – Worldwide
Swiftness, Activity & Purity – Native Americans
Good Luck, Harmony & Prosperity |Instability & Weakness – Chinese
Light & New Joy| Irresponsibility & Unreliability – Japanese
A dragonfly will lead you to fairies – Ireland & Europe
Horse possessed by the devil – Romania
Eye Pokers – Norway

click image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art

If you liked this post, you may also like Spiders – Organic Pest Managers

click image to get coloring sheet to download


University of Notre Dame – Massive Swarm Migrations of Dragonflies (Odonata) in Eastern North America

Bay Nature magazine – Why Do Dragonflies Swarm?

California Department of Food and Agriculture – Insecta: Odonata

California Dragonfly and Damselfly Photo Identifier

Dragonfly Migration Journey North

Migratory Dragonfly Partnership | Portland, OR

Dragonfly Migration Monitoring in North America; Protocols for Citizen Scientists PDF

Dragonfly Swarm Project

Dragonfly Swarm Report – Help amass worldwide data on dragonfly swarms

Flickr – Northern California Dragonflies by David A. Hofmann

The Guardian – Discovering Dragonflies that Cross Oceans

Insect Identification for the casual observer

Live Science – Dragonfly Shows Human-Like Power of Concentration

Odanata Central – Nevada County, CA

Pacific Horticulture Society – Garden Allies: Dragonflies and Damselflies

Popular Mechanics –  Attract Dragonflies to your Yard for All-Natural Pest Control

ScienceDaily – Dragonfly brains predict the path of their prey

Sciencing – Life Cycle of a Dragonfly – 14 Fun Facts About Dragonflies

UC Berkeley- Odanata

Western Pondhawk (Erythemis collocata) (PDF)

Wikipedia – Maganeura

Follow by Email