John Pilieri said, “I’ve made hundreds of these for a fraction of the cost” of retail tick tubes.
In November 2016, a golden lab named Jake fell victim to ticks. John Pilieri of Mantua, Jake’s owner, found a fully-engorged tick and dozens more attempting to burrow under the dog’s skin. Pilieri and his family live at the edge of a large patch of woods adjacent to Chestnut Branch Park.
“Less than two days later, he began to show signs that something wasn’t right,” Pilieri said, noting he applied a popular flea and tick treatment to Jake before the discovery of the ticks. Jake lost his appetite, became lethargic and struggled supporting his own weight with his back legs; Pilieri took his dog to the vet.
“His veterinarian was certain his symptoms were consistent with a tick-borne illness,” Pilieri said.
Jake was placed on a month-long course of doxycycline, an antibiotic.
Success was met almost immediately; however, the cost of vet bills and prescriptions was high and the presence of ticks near his home was not going to go away.
“The total in vet bills and prescriptions was over $400,” he said, adding the antibiotic was especially pricey, nearly $200 for a month’s dose.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 30,000 people in the United States are affected by diseases such as Lyme disease annually. In 2015, nearly 5,000 cases of Lyme disease were recorded in New Jersey alone, with 128 cases in Gloucester County, according to a report by Lyme Disease Association, Inc.
Living close to the woods, many tick hosts such as deer, mice, voles and others are present, making Pilieri’s dog an easy target.
Tick tubes are devices used to limit a tick population close-by. These items are generally biodegradable cardboard tubes filled with cotton balls treated with permethrin, an insecticide. These tubes are placed under brush, and mice collect the cotton within to build nests. Exposure to permethrin helps reduce the tick population.
Because mice are generally hosts to ticks that are in the early stages of life, tick tubes aim to stifle an upcoming generation of ticks.
However, pre-made tick tubes can be found for varying prices.
Dismayed, Pilieri got creative.
After studying the process of creating a tick tube, he decided to make his own.
“I wanted to target the ticks without damaging the ecology,” he said.
The National Pesticide Information Center states, “Pyrethrins are practically non-toxic to birds but highly toxic to honey bees. However, some of the risk to pollinators is limited by their slight repellent activity and rapid breakdown.”
Aiming to target the ticks that feed off mice, Pileri purchased a $20 quart of permethrin while collecting cardboard rolls. Storing his growing list of supplies in a box in his home, Pilieri added dryer lint, cotton balls and other items to serve as stuffing.
Pilieri then mixes the permethrin with water, soaks the cottony material in the solution overnight and then allows for each piece to dry for several days before stuffing it inside of a six-inch cardboard roll.
“There are two main reasons that the stuffing is placed in tubes. Firstly, it keeps the material dry. Mice and rodents generally take soft, dry materials for their nests. The second is that the sunlight breaks down the permethrin, reducing the effectiveness,” he said.
“I’ve made hundreds of these for a fraction of the cost,” he said.
While taking Jake for walks in the woods, Pilieri places his tick tubes under logs, bushes and in areas of thick brush.
“Since starting this, we have noticed a reduction in the number of ticks in the woods. Two years ago we couldn’t walk down the road without getting a tick crawling on our person,” Pilieri said.