Category Archives: Gardening

Shaving your legs to deter ticks

Colin Purrington Photography: Green steps &emdash; girl-with-shaved-legsPeople shave their legs for a variety of reasons: to look younger (artificial neoteny), to look less like men, to show off tattoos, to show off muscle definition, to improve athletic performance (less drag, plus fools brain into thinking you’re going fast), to facilitate post-accident wound cleaning (cyclists), and because shaved legs induces a pleasurable sensory overload (at least to some). But can shaving also protect you from ticks? I became curious this week after watching a tick crawl up my leg (photograph below). I was really surprised to discover that no experiments on this topic have been done, but did succeed in finding three relevant snippets on the internet (two from mountain bikers, one from cross country runner):

“One thing that helps is shaving your legs. Not a foolproof way but I would say it reduces them critters by 80%, maybe more. I noticed that when my wife and I were out and she had none, I had around 14 that day.” source

“As an experiment I shaved my legs before riding point to point at lbl with KRS and a few others. It was tick season. After 40+ miles of riding I had 1 tick on my sock. Along the way KRS pulled OVER 15 ticks. We rode the same route at the same pace. I’ve kept the hair off ever since.”  source

“I’d say its mostly impractical. Although, I know many trail runners (including myself sometimes in the summer) do it to prevent ticks from attaching.” source

But, hey, maybe the anecdotes are just that, and hairy legs actually deter ticks in some way. 

Colin Purrington Photography: Spiders and ticks &emdash; American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

But it makes sense that shaving would deter ticks. The first is obvious: ticks can grip hair, so if you are hairless (and are wearing shorts, skirt, or kilt), they can’t climb as fast (they are headed for your groin, by the way). The second is that you if you have hairless legs you can most likely better feel them crawling up your legs. I.e., all eight of their legs are touching your skin’s sensory array (or all six of their legs if they are larvae). The third is that when you remove all your leg hair you are removing a lot of sensory distractions caused by wind (experiment on swimmers), and thus you can zero in on things crawling on you. Indeed, all of these mechanisms might touch on why we evolved to be relatively hairless in the first place

So about the experiments that need to be done …

An easy way to assess would be to count numbers of ticks on a group of people out for a walk, some of whom shave. But at least in the United States, that would break down to men versus women, and males smell worse than women and thus might attract more ticks, regardless of hirsuteness. And men are usually larger, so there’s the surface area thing that goes against us, too. So it would be far better to recruit a group of hairy-legged women and ask them to shave just one leg, then march around a field known to have ticks. Participants would tie white bandanas around their upper thighs to arrest the ticks before they got too intimate, then count tick numbers. But finding enough women who don’t shave might make the protocol hard to follow (again, at least in the United States). So perhaps using a group of guys would be more feasible. An ideal group might be a men’s college swim team right before the season begins. Just ask the coach to donate their legs for science. Would be an easy publication for a day’s work, and the experiment would be crazy photogenic. Plus great team-building exercise. Would get the college on the evening news I’m sure. 

A simpler design might be to just have a motivated group of people (perhaps students in a field ecology course?) conduct tick races on shaved, unshaved legs. You just need to start them on the ankles and have participants hold still while the ticks make their ascents. That would be equally photogenic and fun, I think. And to get at the perception part, you could have blindfolded participants that would be asked to identify location of ticks crawling up legs (with controls being placement of non-ticks on ankles, perhaps).

The proposed experiments might seem horrific, but just the for record, I once swam around the edges of a small pond just to see how many leeches would attach to me. I recall that my father challenged me, and that we were going to see who could win. I don’t remember who ended up with more. (Yes, that was a nerd x testosterone interaction effect.)

If somebody does go ahead and conducts this experiment — and if the effect is huge (my guess) — the next step would be to alert the folks at the CDC so they could add a shaving recommendation to their tick page. The reaction to that would be entertaining.

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Raspberry crown borer

I LOVE this clearwing moth. The raspberry crown borer (Pennisetia marginata) is a Batesian mimic of (I think) Vespula maculifrons and V. pensylvanica, our native yellow jackets. If you’re mildly impressed by the resemblance, you should see them in flight or walking around a leaf. They have completely nailed the cocky, jerky yellow jacket attitude. I can’t seem to find a video to link to, but this is a related species. If you live near a big patch of raspberry or blackberry, go look for them right now … they are out mating and laying eggs.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Female raspberry crown borer (Pennisetia marginata)

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Female raspberry crown borer (Pennisetia marginata)

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Instragramming invasive species in Hawai’i

During my recent trip to Hawai’i I got to wondering how conservation organizations use Instagram to educate the public about invasive species. A quick search pulled up several groups that seem involved, at least occasionally, and I’ll list here just in case you want to follow them (# followers in parentheses):

hawaii-invasive-species-instagramPart of my reason for wasting time on the above was because when I posted a photograph of an introduced frog, I wasn’t sure if anyone on Instagram might care. Potentially, there might be a group or two that might want to mentioned, in the off chance that a species hadn’t been noticed at that particular location. Not being a native, I had no idea which groups to mention, though, so all I did was add some hashtags for the species name as well as #invasive #introduced #nonnative … with the hope that somebody might find it useful someday (unlikely). But the process got me wondering how groups use Instagram to get the word out on how to control invasives. Here are some thoughts on how to do it, with apologies to the groups who are already doing it:

  1. To build buzz about your organization and its goals, repost images of others that show the species you are trying to control. People love to have their images reposted or their accounts mentioned. You can find these images by following people (duh), or by searching Google for Instagram photos with particular keywords (e.g., coqui kauai). The routine is just this: ask them if it would be OK to be reposted/featured … and then give them credit by including Instagram handle (i.e., don’t just give the photographer’s name).
  2. If you don’t want to feature other people’s images, at least patrol other people’s posts that relate to invasive species, endemics, restoration, etc. For example, if somebody posts an adorable photograph of a small frog and says, “Love this little guy; going to send to my uncle on Kauai for his birthday!” … you can urge them not to do that. Or, when somebody posts about clearing invasives from property, you can say thanks (and perhaps invite them to a volunteer day if you’re group is local). And it’s not just people making posts about invasives … many companies are active in promoting pono and have thousands of active followers (@southmauispearfishing, e.g., has *dozens* of posts about invasive roi and what to do about them). The more you interact by favoriting and commenting, the more people on a particular island will see your organization’s work as important and worth supporting.
  3. If your organization has volunteer work days, add an “Instagram name” column to your sign-in sheet. Then mention each person when you post photos from the event (you should do that!). People love to be publicly thanked. Example. Another example.
  4. In your bio and in your posts, remind folks to tag their own images with #invasive #hawaii (or whatever) and species name so that the posts can help educate their followers. Example. Example. You can also dream up custom hashtags such as #hawaiiinvasive if you want (that’s from @kauaiisc, by the way).
  5. When you make presentations about invasives at local schools, show your Instragram handle at start and end. Young adults increasingly don’t care about your web site, your twitter feed, or your phone number but you might get them to follow on Instagram.
  6. Award prizes to people reporting or posting certain kinds of images. People love contests. For example, send some swag to person who posts best selfie with gold dust day gecko (example).
  7. If you have a Facebook page, add a tab for your Instagram feed. It’s easy. You should also automatically add your Instagram posts to your timeline.
  8. If you include a phone number in your bio for reporting a particular species, include an area code in case clueless tourists see call to action. Repeat this number in posts, too … because somebody might not bother to visit your actual home page.
  9. Check Instagram regularly to see whether anyone has posted an image of a species of special concern. For example, you can run a search for “ snake hawaii” to patrol for snake sightings (the search results are mainly Hawaiian shirts with snakes). There used to be several ways to automate such Instagram searches and receive emails … but Instagram blocked them.
  10. If your organization doesn’t have an Instagram account, fix that.

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White-footed woods mosquito drinking nectar

Here’s a female white-footed mosquito (Psorophora ferox) that I photographed at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum, Pennsylvania. I’m not a mosquito expert, so my ID is a guess based on its green eyes and purple coloration. That’s a terrible way to identify a mosquito, I’m sure. It’s a female because the antennae are not especially fluffy Males have massive, bushy antennae for sensing the wingbeat noise that females make, which is at a higher frequency than that of males. I’m posting this photograph because it’s National Pollinator Week and few people appreciate the pollination that mosquitoes perform. But we could kill them all and we’d be fine, I’m sure.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; White-footed woods mosquito (Psorophora ferox) nectaring on goldenrod

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Mountain laurel flowering in December

I stumbled upon a solitary mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) flower yesterday while walking around Lake Mohonk in New Paltz. It isn’t the prettiest mountain laurel flower, but it was DECEMBER 27th, approximately six (!) months before one would expect a mountain laurel flower in this area. This December has been the warmest on record for the area, I think, and Christmas Eve was almost 70 °F (!!). Crazy, and really, really sad. This flower isn’t alone, apparently — the New York Times has a compilation of strange phenology across the country.

Colin Purrington Photography: Plants &emdash; winter-mountain-laurel

If you’d like to see photographs of prettier mountain laurel at Mohonk, here are photographs I took a few summers ago.

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