Ticked Off

Unpleasant little creature

Before we moved to southwest France I had never seen a tick. They are very unpleasant blood-sucking creatures that make my flesh creep when I think about them. Unfortunately, they are endemic in our neck of the woods and have been for some time. At this time of year, they become particularly active. Above is one I removed from the cat this morning.

Ticks endemic to the area

This area used to be a sheep-rearing region. Our neighbour, Mme F, tended the sheep when she was a girl. We know that up on the causse above Caylus, where the military camp is, the whole area was given over to sheep grazing. There were no trees and the militaires were able to hoist a flag when they wanted to signal an impending artillery barrage. Nowadays, although there are a few flocks of sheep, cows are now the main type of farming in the area.

The sheep have left their legacy in the form of ticks. Deer and other wildlife no doubt carry them, too. These nasty creatures are related to spiders and have eight legs. They have the ability to remain dormant, attached to a blade of grass or a twig until a warm-blooded animal brushes past. Then they transfer themselves to the animal and insidiously crawl on them until they find a suitable place to corkscrew in their heads and start gorging on the blood. They inject an anti-coagulant to assure an uninterrupted flow of blood. Apparently, fossil evidence shows that these creatures have been around for at least 65 million years.

They are especially bad this spring. I spend a long time inspecting our cat, which has long fur, for evidence of them crawling over his coat. Sometimes they are already buried in his flesh, like the one above. Fortunately, in the case of cats, our vet tells us they can’t transfer any nasty illnesses, unlike in dogs. Nonetheless, it’s not a good idea to let them reside for any length of time, since they can cause inflammations of the skin. Our vet sold us a very useful tool for removing them, a bit like a mini crowbar. It’s very effective: you just grip the tick, turn it clockwise and it comes out, head and all.

Dealing with them

Over the years here, I have found several of these beasts embedded in my flesh. You normally find them when you’re in the shower or towelling yourself down afterwards. Then, a small black dot attached to the back of your knee turns out to be rather more firmly attached than you realised. They burrow their heads into your flesh and if you try to pull them straight out the body comes out but the head remains embedded, which can lead to an infection.

The first time I had one (they seem to go for me rather than the SF) I dispatched the SF down to the chemists to find a remedy. That morning, there were a lot of people in the shop and they all piled in with their pet method for removing them. These ranged from the quite sensible (ether) to the frankly bizarre or unpleasant (dig them out with a sharp knife). We opted for the ether and it did the trick on that occasion but it doesn’t always work.

‘Lymie’ who has commented below stresses the importance of correct removal. Here is the link to the site she mentions, which provides a lot of detail about tick-borne diseases.

Lyme disease

Certain varieties of tick are known to be carriers of Lyme disease, which can cause severe neurological damage if not treated. Lyme is not a person but a town in America. Children there were noted in the 1970s to suffer from what was thought to be juvenile rheumatoid arthritis but the condition was eventually isolated to tick-borne infections. In Europe, Lyme disease is more prevalent in the central areas and much less so in the south. Our French GP told me that he had never seen a case of Lyme disease in 20 years here.

Many people take a belt and braces approach and, in addition to removing the tick, take an antibiotic. It is always important when removing the tick to ensure that the head comes out. If a ring of inflammation later appears around the site of the tick bite it is advisable to seek medical treatment. If in doubt, it’s always sensible to seek medical advice.  

I know there is a tick patiently waiting for me on a small shrub in our garden. It has flattened itself out against the stem, almost imperceptible, waiting for a warm-blooded creature to come past. However, I am just waiting for the rain to stop before I go and exterminate it. The trouble is there are plenty more where it came from.

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Yes, they are horrible things. Mitch has tick fever once. Luckily we realised and got him to the vet double quick. Leaf and I have had them on the back of our necks – yuck! I too have one of those removal gadgets but often as not use my fingers and haven’t yet failed to get the whole lot out. Thanks for all the info.


    • I haven’t had one on the neck but they do have a habit of getting into inaccessible places where you need help to remove them! Those gadets are good. I don’t rely on fingers in case I leave a bit in.


  2. I dislike ticks intensely, but it is oddly therapeutic to pick them off the animals and squash them! We use the special hooks for removing them, but I’ve got pretty good at twisting them off with my fingers. I haven’t had to resort to cigarettes or sharp knives to get any off. And what is it about embarrassing places that ticks find so attractive?! They seem to make a beeline for them!


    • I enjoy squashing them, too, but always wash my hands carefully afterwards since they carry some pretty nasty stuff. And if you do twist them off with your fingers, make sure there’s absolutely nothing left.


  3. Having lived for years in the Midwest of the USA, I’m a tick expert. They are awful, aren’t they? They do seem to like some people more than others…lucky you! In the States, deer ticks which are tiny, tiny are the ones that spread Lyme disease. The big ones are just annoying. I’ve always just pulled them out with my fingers or tweezers and then washed the spot well with soap and water. Of course, you should always keep an eye open for infection. The kids always loved picking off the big, blood-filled ones and popping them on the sidewalk…probably not very hygienic, but entertaining!


    • I’ve seen the tiny ones here as well, although it’s the large ones that seem to be more prevalent. The previous commentator, who was seriously affected by a tick bite, stresses the importance of removing them correctly so that none of the mouth parts remain and it doesn’t squirt infected material into the site of the bite.


  4. Please get yourselves informed on the correct removal of ticks, Lyme disease can ruin your life, I was bitten in France 5 years ago, I am now housebound, in constant pain and barely able to walk. After 4 years of treatment, I doubt that I will improve. Not sure if I can post a link here but if you google ” Bada UK” you will find all the info.
    Take care and keep safe.


    • Very sorry to hear about your awful experience and hope that you do improve. As I said in the post, it’s very important to remove the tick as soon as you find it and not to leave the head or any other part of it embedded. The pharmacies here sell very effective tick-removal devices, which we have, and it’s a good idea to take one with you if you go for a walk.

      I had a look at the site you mention, which is full of useful information, and have added the link in the post.


  5. My husband got one caught between his toes once! I didn’t use the lighted fag method,but maybe next time…There’s a special tweezer they sell at the chemist’s here which is quite efficient at removing them. I grew up on a sheep farm but don’t remember ticks ever being an issue. It must be related to climate or where they graze.


    • I’ve also had them between the toes and in certain other places, which I won’t mention. We also have a useful removal tool, which works very well. I think ticks are becoming more of a problem as time goes on.


  6. The first time I came across a tick on a human was our first summer here, my husband was getting dressed and there was a loud cry of horror. There was one on the end of his… At the time the only way we knew of getting rid of them properly was to dob them with the end of a lighted cigarette. Have you ever tried to approach a man there wtih a lit fag?


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