11 Myths About Ticks, Debunked

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iStock

It's officially summer, which means tick season is in full swing. Like other creepy crawlies that feed on our blood and spread disease, ticks can cause a lot of anxiety, which has led to plenty of misinformation regarding how dangerous they are, how they find prey, and the best ways to get rid of them. Before venturing outdoors, read up on the most common myths about ticks.

1. THE MYTH: BURNING THEM WORKS BETTER THAN TWEEZERS.

Person using tweezers to remove a tick from a dog's ear.
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After spotting a tick latched to their body, some people make the problem worse by grabbing a lighter. According to the myth, burning a tick off your skin is the most efficient way to remove it, but Kirby C. Stafford, the chief entomologist at the Connecticut Department of Entomology, says this thinking is misguided. "Imagine trying to burn something the size of a sesame seed or poppy seed or smaller attached closely to your skin," he tells Mental Floss. In addition to being potentially painful and dangerous, this method also puts you at a higher risk of infection. According to a paper from 1996, people who had dealt with ticks using non-tweezer methods were more likely to contract a tickborne disease. People who removed them by pinching them with tweezers close to their skin and lifting them off, as Stafford recommends, were less likely to get sick.

2. THE MYTH: SWABBING THEM WITH SOAP IS AN EFFECTIVE REMOVAL METHOD.

Two ticks on a white dog.
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If you're squeamish about plucking off a tick with tweezers, smothering it with a cotton ball soaked with liquid soap, nail polish remover, or rubbing alcohol may sound like a tempting alternative. But this is another bogus method experts recommend you avoid. Creating an inhospitable environment for the tick in the hopes of it detaching on its own takes more time than removing it with tweezers, and that creates more opportunities for pathogens to enter your bloodstream. Only swab with rubbing alcohol after the tick has been removed—it's a good way to kill lingering microbes.

3. THE MYTH: YOU CAN FEEL A TICK BITE WHEN IT HAPPENS.

Tick feeding on blood.
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Don't count on a tick alerting you to its presence when it digs in to feed—most tick bites are painless, so unless you're looking for it, a tick can go undetected on your body for days or however long it takes to get its fill. So instead of assuming you'll feel the tick if it's there, make a habit of scanning your clothes and body whenever you come in from the outdoors, using a hand mirror to check the spots you can't see.

4. THE MYTH: TICKS ARE ONLY A PROBLEM WHEN YOU'RE HIKING OR CAMPING.

Tick warning sign posted on a tree.
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People tend to worry about ticks when they're on a weekend camping trip or a long hike through the woods—not so much when they're safe at home on their own property. But according to Stafford, most people pick up deer ticks close to their houses. Even if you don't live in a heavily wooded area, certain spots of your yard may be harboring them. "They can be found in groundcover, mixed unkempt grassy vegetation, and similar areas," he says, "even on a trip to the mailbox on the street or by the garden hose next to the front porch."

5. THE MYTH: TICKS ARE EASY TO SPOT.

A tick hiding under human hair.
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Many people have only seen a tick after it has been feeding on their blood for days. This doesn't paint an accurate picture of what the arachnid looks like most of the time: When they’re engorged, female deer ticks are two to three times their normal body size and darker than usual. In order to catch a tick before it has a chance to make a meal of you, you need to look for a reddish-brown speck that's roughly 3 to 5 millimeters long, or the size of a sesame seed, while nymphal ticks—which are responsible for the majority of infections—are the size of a poppy seed.

6. THE MYTH: TICKS DISAPPEAR IN THE WINTER.

Engorged deer tick.
iStock

You're most likely to encounter ticks during the warmer months, but that doesn't mean you should let your guard down completely come winter. While adult ticks are dormant for most of the season, they can be active as long as the weather is warmer than 40°F—and with climate change raising temperatures year-round, unseasonably warm winter days are more likely than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control, illnesses spread by ticks more than doubled between 2004 and 2016, and experts pin part of the blame on the weather.

7. THE MYTH: ONLY DEER TICKS ARE DANGEROUS.

Close-up of a deer tick.
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Deer ticks are notorious for transmitting Lyme Disease, an illness that can cause serious symptoms, especially if it's not caught early. While deer ticks and the related western blacklegged tick are the only tick species in America known to spread Lyme, the American dog tick of the eastern half of the U.S. is a common carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can be life-threatening when not treated with antibiotics. The lone star tick, which is native to the southern and eastern U.S., made news last year for producing a spontaneous allergy to red meat in some of its victims.

8. THE MYTH: TICKS JUMP FROM TREES.

Three ticks crawling on a branch.
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Ticks are bad enough without having to worry about them raining down on you every time you walk under a tree. Fortunately, these kamikaze-style attacks are just a myth. Ticks can't fly or jump, and they much prefer hanging out near the ground where they can attach to the legs of passing mammals to lurking in tree branches far from their prey. But that doesn't mean your scalp is safe. As Stafford says, "Most are picked up on the legs and they can crawl up amazingly quickly." He says a deer tick is capable of scaling a leg in a few minutes or less.

9. THE MYTH: A TICK HEAD IS STILL DANGEROUS AFTER YOU REMOVE THE BODY.

Tick bite next to a freckle.
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Ideally when you pull off a tick with tweezers you should remove the whole thing—not just the body without its head. But if you aren't 100 percent sure you got the full tick off on the first try, don't panic. A disembodied head or biting apparatus attached to your skin won't be able to transmit disease, move on its own, or grow back into a full tick. It might irritate the skin around it, but usually it will fall out on its own.

10. THE MYTH: TICKS CAN SMELL BLOOD.

Tick held up by tweezers.
iStock

Ticks have a keen sense of smell they use to hunt their prey, but it isn't blood they're searching for. They've evolved to sense carbon dioxide, a.k.a. the gas you emit every time you exhale. When a tick detects CO2, it might (depending on the species) react by dashing toward its potential host—and unless you can hold your breath whenever you're outside, there's not much you can do to hide from them.

11. THE MYTH: LYME DISEASE ALWAYS COMES WITH A BULLSEYE RASH.

A bullseye rash from a tick bite.
iStock

If it’s been several days since you were bitten by a tick and there’s still no sign of the telltale bullseye rash at the bite site, you may assume you’re in the clear. But according to the National Center for Health Research, fewer than 50 percent of all Lyme infections produce this symptom. A more accurate way to check if you have the disease is to look for several early symptoms instead of just one—these might include muscle weakness in the face, lightheadedness and shortness of breath, fever, and joint pain. These signs usually appear within a month following a tick bite if you’ve been infected.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.