This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, a carrier of Lyme disease. Credit: CDC via AP

Those pleasant-looking robins eating worms on your front lawn could be carrying the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease. That’s how ticks themselves become infected — by feeding on the blood of a reservoir host.

Other bird species, and animals such as mice, chipmunks and squirrels, can also infect deer ticks with disease-causing pathogens, according to a new website designed by Maine Medical Center Research Institute’s tick lab to inform people about all things tick related.

You can reduce your exposure to ticks by checking yourself and your pets when you come back inside, especially if you’re in a southern or coastal county at high risk for tick-related diseases.

You can also use approved acaricides, which are chemicals that kill ticks:

Tick tubes

One of the institute’s suggestions is to place tick tubes around your property to transform those birds and rodents into tick killers, instead of hosts.

The best time to use them is in July and August, when tick larvae have hatched and are waiting for a blood meal, and in the spring when second-stage ticks, known as nymphs, appear.

The tubes work especially well for mice, who collect nesting material. The open-ended cardboard tube filled with cotton — perfect for nests — is treated with the pesticide permethrin.

When mice bring the cotton back to their nests, the permethrin binds to the oils on their fur. Ticks are then killed when they try to attach to the mice, who are not harmed.

Tick tubes go where mice hide: woodpiles, stone walls, foundations, dense flower beds, high grass, or plantings by your house foundation or porch, according to Damminix, which sells tick tubes. If the cotton is still in the tubes after awhile, you can always move them around to find where the mice are.

Also, don’t worry about rain as permethrin is not water soluble. And though permethrin doesn’t harm the environment, you shouldn’t use it near waters with fish as it’s highly toxic to them.

But tick tubes won’t get rid of the problem entirely.

“Despite the promise of this novel approach, trials of permethrin-treated cotton balls reported in the scientific literature have not demonstrated sufficient reduction in tick numbers to significantly lower the risk of contracting Lyme disease,” states the institute’s website.

This could be because many other hosts, such as chipmunks and squirrels, don’t use the cotton balls in the same way as mice.

Tick spray

There are Environmental Protection Agency-registered pesticides out there that can kill ticks. You can have a professional spray key points of your property.

Bifenthrin is commonly used to kill deer ticks. Like permethrin, it’s lethal to fish, though runoff is limited because the chemical binds well to soil.

If you’d prefer a more natural solution, a botanical mixture made with 10 percent rosemary oil “has been shown to be almost as effective as bifenthrin when applied by a high-pressure hose,” according to the Maine Medical Center Research Institute’s tick lab. It costs more, however.

Bait boxes

These child-resistant boxes carry bait that attracts mice. Inside, they also have little wicks treated with fipronil, the active ingredient in the flea and tick medications veterinarians often prescribe for dogs and cats. When mice brush up against the wicks, a small amount of the tick-killing chemical gets on their fur.

You put bait boxes 30 to 50 feet apart in the spring and fall. Studies have shown a 60- to 80-percent reduction in ticks after one year and a 90- to 100-percent reduction after two years, according to the institute.

Before deciding whether pesticides are right for your property, read the Maine Bureau of Pesticide Control’s Tick Control Product Fact Sheet here. For more information, visit

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on issues of sexual...