Most people go out of their way to avoid ticks. Not Greg Burg. He tries to find all he can.
And Burg's searches along the wooded trails at Dad Perry Park in west Lawrence have been growing more fruitful by the week.
Burg, an entomologist and Kansas University assistant director of undergraduate biology, is collecting ticks for study in the laboratory and to determine how weather and the environment affect their population.
"I'd like to know why they are here and not over there," Burg said, pointing from one trail to another during a Thursday afternoon outing at Dad Perry Park.
It's a study Burg expects will take at least five years before he has enough data to draw conclusions.
"I have a lot of time over the long haul for it," Burg, 47, said.
Burg wore light-colored khaki pants tucked into his white socks while walking the trails. He carried a white corduroy cloth attached to a stick and dragged it along the grass as he walked. Every 10 feet or so he stopped and turned the cloth over. He was finding about four or five ticks each swipe.
"That's a male, that's a female," Burg said, pointing to a couple of ticks scurrying along the cloth. The female, he noted, has a small white mark on its back.
Burg picked the ticks up one at a time and dropped them into a plastic vial.
Ticks lie in wait in the vegetation for something to come along they can latch their legs onto, Burg said. If their host is an animal, it's feeding time.
Three types of ticks commonly are found in eastern Kansas, Burg said. The most common is the dog tick, often located in boundaries between woods and fields. The Lone Star tick resides in heavily shaded woods; and the black-legged tick in wooded areas where you find a lot of dead leaves.
Though all ticks carry various pathogens and diseases, the dreaded Lyme disease carried by the scapularis tick rarely is found here, he said. Lyme disease is not fatal.
But Rocky Mountain spotted fever, carried by the dog tick, can be fatal. Twenty cases of spotted fever were reported in Kansas from 1994 to 1998, though information about resulting fatalities, if any, was not readily available.
"You can handle them and be perfectly safe," Burg said. "A tick has to feed for at least 24 hours before they can pass on any pathogens to you."
The best way to remove ticks is with a pair of tweezers, Burg said. Using alcohol or burning them with a lighter or match may only irritate them and make them more violent, he said.
Even if a piece of the tick remains in the skin after the rest has been removed, it won't cause problems any worse than a splinter would, he said.
Most insect repellents work against ticks if sprayed on clothes or skin before an outing, Burg said. Certain sprays, however, are not meant for skin and only for clothes, he said.
The tick population will only continue to grow between now and mid-summer. They will be their most active when night temperatures drop no lower than 65 or 70 degrees, Burg said.
Burg carries a notebook to write down the number of ticks he finds. The book showed that his tick count at Dad Perry has gone from 19 on April 4 to 55 on April 17.
"Today I've found 58 and I'm only half-way done," he said.