It's the kind of hunt that many people wouldn't want to go on willingly, but University of Alaska Anchorage student researchers Gale Disler and Kris Carroll are doing it nearly every day this summer. The pair are hunting for non-native ticks in parks and campgrounds across Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.

The research is part of a pilot program headed by University of Alaska Assistant Professor Micah Hahn in conjunction with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Office of the State Veterinarian. Hahn said Alaskans have been encouraged to send in ticks for identification as part of the Submit-A-Tick Program in the past, but this is the first time ticks will be collected, identified, then sent to Fairbanks where they will be checked for signs of disease.

Researchers use cloth to drag the forest floor to collect ticks

Hahn said the fieldwork performed this summer and next will look to see if the growing number of non-native ticks showing up in the state can actually live and reproduce here.

Disler and Carroll are looking at several sites in Anchorage where humans, dogs and wildlife interact, including Kincaid Park, Far North Bicentennial Park, University Lake, Ruth Arcand Park and Connor's Lake, as well as several sites on the Kenai.

Despite three visits to the site researchers have yet to find a tick

Disler and Carroll check the sites every other week, dragging what looks like tattered sheets across the ground that are specially made for a tick to cling on to. But so far this summer, they have yet to find a tick. Disler said she's confident the bugs are around, just difficult to find.

"We see them on wildlife through passive surveillance, as well as people and pets, so they are out here," she said. "It's kind of just looking for them at this point."

Hahn said anyone who finds a tick should report it through the IDENT-A-TICK Program. She adds that test results for pathogens should be out this fall.

Alaskans should be careful if they are traveling to places where ticks are prevalent. Hahn said it's important to take precautions to be safe from ticks when you're there and try not to bring them back.

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