apiary creatures

Tick-tock: ticks in the bee yard

I had nearly forgotten about the influx of ticks that seem to be everywhere. After living here for 24 years without seeing a single tick, they really weren’t front and center in my mind. So Monday, when I went to photograph bumble bees, ticks didn’t merit a second thought.

After packing my camera, I left the house and trekked into the Capitol State Forest. We share a property boundary with this awesome piece of land, so in essence, we’ve got a ginormous woodland backyard, for which I am eternally grateful.

Bumbles on my mind

On this particular day, I had bumble bees on my mind. I had seen them—or rather heard them—a few days prior, so I knew right where to go. I left the trail and went overland until I found the perfect spot.

The tract had been logged about ten years ago. Generally, the state replants soon after the cut but sometimes they tarry, so this section comprised very young forest. The ground was uneven, with stumps poking up between rotting logs, sword ferns, and slash piles. Trailing blackberry, in full bloom, covered everything making the ground look pillowy and soft—at least from a distance. I hunkered down on the ground, adjusted my camera, and made sure my shadow didn’t fall on the flowers.

Whispered conversations

Little did I know it, but the ticks were talking about me:

“Son of a gun,” said one.
“Can you believe our luck?” chimed another.
The third summed it up. “Dinner just walked in and sat down beside us!”

The site I selected had the densest accumulation of bumble bees, but I noticed that as soon as I got comfortable, the bees left, moving about four yards north. I tried to be patient, but they weren’t coming back. Blackberries were everywhere, no shortage, so the bees could easily avoid danger. Eventually I got up and moved. Once again I found the perfect spot, and once again the bees cleared out as soon as I settled in.

I don’t know how many times we played this game, but I soon got bored with it. I got a few shots, nothing great, but that’s typical with bug photography. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t. Eventually I packed up and went home.

Creepy feelings

During the rest of the day, I felt something itchy on my neck, but when I scratched, it went away. I’m always outside in the garden, the yard, or in the forest where things can take a nibble, so it didn’t concern me.

It wasn’t until several hours later when I was brushing my teeth, that my neck started itching again. This time, I found the creature. OMG! A tick. Only last fall Rich had gone through a full course of antibiotics for Lyme disease, and I wasn’t overly eager for my personal turn.

A sign warns us to be aware of ticks in the bee yard.

Tick warning sign at the entrance to our home.

I grabbed the tick and ran through the house with it, intending to throw it outside.

“Don’t drop that in here! Don’t you dare drop it!” Rich trailed me through the house.

But when I got to the back door, I realized putting it in the yard was a bad idea, so I turned around and ran back inside—still trailed—to the bathroom.

“Don’t you drop that thing in here! Don’t you dare!” The dog thought this was great fun, seeing me run from room to room with a tick in my hand while Rich hollered threatening instructions.

I got it back to the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet, checking under the seat just in case. I didn’t want to end up sitting on it.

By then I was itchy in places where I didn’t know I had places. I finally stripped down and turned like a slow-roasting chicken, while Rich checked every square inch of me for ticks. Of course, now that the tick was safely flushed, Rich went into lewd comments mode, saying something about “for a woman your age.” What the heck is that supposed to mean? He’s sweet, but really?

Arachnids, all

Ticks remind me of varroa mites: they are flat, oval, brownish, and entirely sneaky. They have too many legs, carry diseases, and are not at all cute and cuddly. This post is simply a reminder that ticks are spreading into new places, and they can carry of number of nasty human diseases. And since they like the kind of places that attract beekeepers, you should be on the lookout. Ticks usually don’t burrow in right away, so if you’re paying attention, you can find them before they bite. But don’t wait too long. Tick-tock goes the clock.

Honey Bee Suite

This bumble bee, <em>Bombus mixtus</em>, inhales a Pacific Northwest native flower, the trailing blackberry or <em>Rubus ursinus</em>.

This bumble bee, Bombus mixtus, inhales a Pacific Northwest native flower, the trailing blackberry, Rubus ursinus. © Rusty Burlew.


  • I live in Southern Maryland and we have a tick epidemic. I spray a insect repellent containing 25% Deet on my clothes and exposed skin before entering my bee yard. It works well but not a 100%.

  • I, too, had the same round of antibiotics for Lyme’s last year (twice!). I found a huge bullseye rash on my side on a cruise of all places when my son was married. I didn’t even go up the mountain at all (20 acres) just from our yard. Funny how the lewd comment mode never fails when checking for ticks. ?

  • In Canada, I believe you are supposed to bring the tick to your doctor if possible so they can test it for Lyme. I’ve some concern that ticks will become epidemic in Ontario. I’ve heard a vet from Montreal mentioned that ticks went from non existent when he was in vet school to all the time when he graduated. My local vet has seen cases in early spring from dogs that only do city walks.

  • Oh my, what a funny post! But I too got a little itchy just thinking about it. You are too funny.

  • We are inundated with them here in CT, & they now carry diseases worse than Lyme’s disease; they carry diseases that are actually deadly! If they are now in your area, when you come in from outside where they might get access to you, you HAVE to do a tick check, & also – put your clothes in the dryer on high heat. Water doesn’t kill them & the only thing I know that does is high heat. Also, when you go outside, spray your clothing with one of the mosquito repellents that you shouldn’t spray on your skin. It does repell ticks too.

    Funny you should compare them to mites. I always call mites “bee ticks”! They are equally nasty!

  • Connecticut here. Home of Lyme disease. Home of ticks. As long as you’ve got someone to help you check out the creepy-crawly feeling, and catch ‘em BEFORE they bite, it’s all just part of living in the woods.

    I’ve had Ehrlichiosis, one of the OTHER tick-borne diseases, and my partner had something with the same symptoms and I called up his doctor and got an antibiotic script called in for him without making him get out of bed, just based on yes he’s had tick bites and yes he’s got the chills and fever.

    Also, as beekeepers we’re very quick to condemn the neonicotinoids, but I squirt one of those on my dog’s back every month (K9 Advantix II aka imidacloprid) and he never gets ticks. The stuff for cats isn’t a neonicotinoid (fipronil and etofenprox alternate months) and I’m ALWAYS picking ticks off my poor outside cat because those just aren’t as good.

  • I grew up with ticks, they were just part of summer fun. We never really thought much about them. I had my tonsils out, at age 7. I was playing in the woods, earlier in the day, and they took one off of me, with ether. That wasn’t yesterday. When found, they usually were dispatched with a hammer. That makes them stop ticking.

    Over the years, I’ve probably had hundreds on me, but have only had, maybe 10, ever attach. I usually find them, before they ever get started.

    My wife hates them. But, I must admit, that they are now carrying a pretty bad array of bad diseases. Some of which, I had never heard of.

    So, if you find a tick attached, but not swelled up, you MAY be fortunate enough to not be infected. If you have one swelled full, it may be a good idea, to have it checked. They inject you with an anti-coagulant, which is how the diseases get transmitted.

  • We, too, are inundated with ticks this year. Was putting a bee box down w/a helper and he said the ticks were jumping in the bee box. Went to a farm to check some bees, and when I got home, I kept itching on my forehead, here, right in the middle under the hair line was a huge tick, didn’t dig in yet, but yuck ! I am not even letting the dogs out to run this year in the woods due to the high tick numbers. And, YES, varroa does remind one of ticks ! A bad bee year, but an exceptional tick year .. go figure !

  • I had a tick last week. They bite and I itch. It was a deer tick so small I could just see it, it really looked like a piece of dirt. I had to use a magnify glass to see the legs. I still itch from the bite. 2 years ago I got bit and got the circle and had to take medicine for Lymes. I live in Virginia and they are really bad here. Take care Rusty have a great week.

  • Hi all
    Speaking of bumble bees and ticks, we may get a new problem. People are putting out cotton with permethrin, with the idea that mice will take this into their nests, and kill ticks with it. Unfortunately, bumble bees like to repurpose mouse nests in which to raise their young. I imagine finding one with poisoned cotton would kill those bees. No proof of it, but it’s something to think about (as if we don’t have enough already!)

    • Peter,

      Thanks for this. I will be meeting with some bumble bee people from Xerces this weekend, and I will ask about it. Sound like a really bad idea.

  • They are being sold with names like: Damminix 27203 Tick Tube, Thermacell TC-06 Tick Control Tubes, etc. or people are making their own. NY State recently issued a press release:

    > Due to rodents also being largely responsible for infecting ticks with Lyme disease, the state will expand use of commercial products to combat the spread of illness by rodents. This includes the deployment of tubes filled with permethrin-treated cotton balls which mice use for nesting material, which kills the ticks in their early larval stage when they attach to mice.


  • Whenever I go check my swarm traps, I come home with 20 ticks minimum. I wear light-colored pants so I can see them easily and flick off as many as I see before getting in my truck to come home.

    • Sean,

      I’v heard more tick stories in the last week than in my previous lifetime. It sounds like an epidemic. I wonder why?

      • It may only be because you provided us this post whereon to suddenly tell you our tick stories. Here in Connecticut, home of Lyme disease, we’ve always had ticks. Possibly global warming is making them worse, but it’s hard to distinguish that from normal year to year variations.

      • Some always wait on the sides of my hives, sunning themselves. They don’t move until you touch the hive. When you touch the hive, they sense your presence and run onto your finger pretty fast.

  • This must be a universal problem this year. We have a higher than normal tick population in Middle Tennessee this year, primarily the seed ticks, almost impossible to see until they have gorged themselves on blood. To add to the misery, our chigger population is also outstanding in its size. A 25%DEET product on the legs, socks and pants seems to keep most of the critters off. Believe I’d rather take a sting than a bite!!

  • I put out tick tubes last fall after two years of getting Lyme even with all the tick protection I was using. It wasn’t until this spring that I learned that bumble bees reuse old mice nests. I have seen not ONE bumble bee in my yard this spring. I killed them all! I feel sick.

  • Today I was in my back yard looking at my bee balm. I noticed a bumble bee that was hanging awkwardly from the underside of one blossom. Upon closer inspection I discovered a deer tick had captured the bumble bee and was sucking it dry. I was able to take multiple pictures. I did not know that ticks ate bees….or any bugs for that matter. My husband was with me when we discovered this oddity. Have you or anyone you know ever witnessed such a thing?

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