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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • The Green Space: Chiggers, and Ticks, and Poison Ivy — Oh, my!

  • Do you come back from a walk in the woods, prairies, or even across the lawn and have that creepy crawly feeling?
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  • Do you come back from a walk in the woods, prairies, or even across the lawn and have that creepy crawly feeling?
    You do not have to stay at home and watch the nature channel anymore to feed your natural desire to enjoy the outdoors. Being prepared and informed will allow you to go outside free from the worries of the unknown.
    Let us start with ivy, poison ivy that is. It has a compound leaf with three leaflets. The center leaflet has a petiole (kind-of like a stem), and the two side leaflets do not. The side leaflets usually have lobes that look like mittens; the center leaflet often has two lobes that look like a mitten with two thumbs.
    You may have heard the old adage, "Leaves of three let it be." Poison ivy is often confused with Virginia creeper, which has five leaflets. Poison ivy can take on many different forms: a vine, a ground cover, or even as a shrub. When growing up a tree as a vine, it has little hairs that cover the vine and holds the vine very tightly to the tree, unlike grape vine that hangs freely from the tree, or Virginia creeper which does not have the many hairs.
    Poison ivy produces clusters of creamy-white waxy, berries which are evident in August – November. The one good thing about poison ivy is that these berries and leaves are eaten by at least 75 different species of songbirds and other wildlife.
    While some find this hard to believe, poison sumac is not found in Missouri or Kansas, and poison oak is very rare in Missouri, and not found in Kansas. If you think you've been exposed, the best thing to do is immediately wash with cool soapy water.
    If it is the creepy crawly-types (such as ticks) that bother you most, it is best to wear light colored clothing, long sleeves, and long pants tucked in your boots or socks. The light colored clothing makes it easier for you to see the little guys as they cling to you and begin their march upward. Stories that ticks drop out of trees are simply not true.
    Chiggers in the woods and fields are probably no worse than in your backyard. Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow under your skin. Chiggers in the larval stage inject saliva that contains a digestive enzyme and then proceed to drink your dissolved skin tissue. (Yum!) Adult chiggers do not feed on you – they feed on various plant materials and small arthropods (insects, arachnids, and crustaceans). Use an insect repellent for most enjoyable, pest-free outdoor experiences. Of course, when you get back from your outdoor adventure you will need to do a tick check. Take a cool shower to wash off the sweat, refresh yourself, and it will help reduce the number of chigger bites, too.
    Page 2 of 2 - As you can see, none of this is very complicated and certainly it is not enough to keep you indoors when there is so much outdoors to enjoy.
    Turn off the TV, and go outside and play!
    Happy Trails!
    Lynn Youngblood is a Kansas City-based naturalist who writes for Gatehouse Media.
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