Welcome Back to the Field!

Before we launch into today’s Notes from the Field, Missoula Gives starts at 5:00PM today! We’ve got a $25,000 goal with an incredible $75,000 matching challenge in place… so if you’ve ever wondered what kind of impact your donation has, rest assured this is BIG! We hope you’ll consider donating as well as sharing the campaign with others. Can’t wait? Our Missoula Gives website is now open for business!

After what has felt like the longest winter ever, it’s finally time to get back into the field for our annual insect abundance survey. This year, not only have we added one more trap site for our own survey, but we’re partnering with MPG Ranch to assist in their collection efforts.

While both studies aim to record and study insect abundance and biomass, the methodology varies. At MBHI, we have two malaise (or flight intercept) traps set up at two locations. MPG Ranch not only has18 flight intercept traps at 18 different sites, but 3 pitfall traps at each trap site. So last week, I had the opportunity to help set up the various trap sites and it. Was. GLORIOUS. 

Nothing beats field work in my mind. I love the feeling of being completely gassed at the end of a full day and waking up with sore muscles the next morning. Nothing is more rewarding. Not to mention the views.

If you look closely you can see our flight intercept trap at the bottom of the slope.

But there is one aspect of field work I could do without: Ticks. If you’re a longtime reader of Notes from the Labyou’re already familiar with my opinion of ticks. Yet despite my aversion, I always seem to forget that tick season even exists (maybe I’m just in denial), and on Thursday I found myself hiking through tall grasses with exposed ankles and no bug repellent on hand; all during the height of tick season. At one point, I even pulled one out of my ear. 

Dermacentor variabilis, the American dog tick. This was just one of what seemed like dozens that I found crawling on me that day.

Field season always starts out the same. The first day out you inevitably forget a few things, and you make mental notes for next time. Next time, I’ll wear sunscreen. Next time, I’ll pack more water. Next time, I’ll bring a flamethrower.

So, dear readers, to prevent you from making the same mistakes I did, here are some quick and easy tips for hiking during tick season. (For a more in-depth primer on tick prevention, check out this great guide from the CDC).

Wear long socks

I’m honestly amazed that I didn’t end up with any ticks creeping up my leg by way of my cropped pantleg. I was constantly checking my exposed ankles, paranoid at every slight brush from a plant (which was constant). 

To prevent ticks from exploring the inside of your pantleg, be sure to not only wear long socks, but tuck your pants into them; nature doesn’t care how dorky you look. 

Keep bug repellent on hand

It took me the better part of 3 decades to learn that sunscreen should be considered essential enough to carry on my person at all times, and after last week I consider bug spray to be just as important. 

You don’t have to bathe in DEET to effectively repel pests, either. While natural repellents may not be as effective or long-lasting as the heavy duty stuff, when combined with other precautions and vigilance they work just fine.

Stay on the trail

While field work pretty much requires traipsing through tall grass, when on a casual hike staying on the trail is the most effective way to steer clear of ticks. Ticks search for their next bloodmeal by climbing tall grasses or shrubs and essentially just waving their little legs about until they grab onto something.

(Staying on the trail is just common courtesy, anyway).

If a tick bites you…

Ticks should be removed as soon as possible but in a safe and methodical manner. The CDC has a great guide for easy tick removal and testing, should you wish to test the tick for disease.

Most importantly, don’t panic! While ticks in western Montana may carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, just repeat the mantra I developed while out in the field on Thursday: “At least we don’t have Lyme.”

Until next time, thanks for visiting the field!

Bug Wrangler Brenna

Want to revisit a previous Notes from the Lab issue? Check out our archive! Do you want to request a subject for an upcoming issue? Email me at the address above and put “Notes from the Lab” in the subject line.