Readers are worried my ‘tick tubes’ will harm predators who eat the affected mice

  • Encephalitis Virus or Lyme Disease Infected Tick Arachnid Insect on Skin Macro nechaev-kon

Monitor staff
Monday, June 11, 2018

Over the years, I have written a few articles that have drawn reader criticism (and by “a few” I mean “more than a few”), but I’m not sure I’ve ever been chastised quite so elegantly as I was after last week’s column describing my homemade tick-killing tubes.

“I am disappointed that you would use your published position to articulate so fulsomely for the hoary notion of better living through chemistry,” wrote one reader who, in an astonishing departure from today’s celebrity-at-all-costs culture, preferred to remain anonymous.

That reader went on to decry my dependence on a “Maginot Line of toxic lint,” a phrase that I’d give my eye teeth to have written.

More than a dozen readers reached out to express similar concerns, which is why I’m responding here.

If you missed the column, I took a couple dozen old toilet-paper tubes and filled them with dryer lint soaked in permethrin, the most effective insecticide against ticks, then distributed them around my yard. The idea is that mice, the biggest carrier of ticks hereabouts, will use the lint to line their nests, and the permethrin will kill their ticks before they can be distributed around my property.

This seems to me a relatively benign use of a potent chemical because it’s very focused. I would not, by contrast, spray permethrin around the property because it wreaks havoc with bees and other pollinators, and is also quite toxic to cats.

Even so, many readers agreed with the erudite critic quoted above that this was still too much of a bad thing. In particular, they were worried about the effect on predators – cats, owls, foxes, etc. – if they ate a mouse that after it had been snuggling into its permethrin-soaked nest.

That’s a fair concern, and I don’t have a good answer. I have been unable to find published research on this. A lot of work has been done on the effect of permethrin released into the environment or the effect of animals when you place it on them (e.g., use it to kill lice on chickens), but not on indirect ingestion.

I do know that anecdotal reports from veterinarians have indicated that cat problems with permethrin involve contact with high-concentration – 40 percent or more – applications for dogs, whereas tick tubes use 10 percent permethrin. That lessens my fears. Also, the Audubon Society says that permethrin in the environment appears to have little or no effect on birds.

So I’m going to continue to use my tick tubes in an attempt to fight back against the tick-pocalypse.

For those of you who are still worried, take heart. Yesterday I checked on all the tubes I could find (as with Easter eggs, I’ve forgotten where we hid some of them) and in none of them has any lint been removed.

So far, at least, my environmental impact has been limited by my incompetence.