JACKSONVILLE, Ore. (AP) -- When Jim Clover waves the white flag, it's not a signal he is surrendering to the little blood suckers. Nope, the tick expert is just starting the hunt. The 3-foot-square flannel flag makes an excellent tick trap.
''What I would like for here is a trail or road with grass along the edge,'' he said as he waded into knee-high grass a half-dozen miles from this southern Oregon town. ''But this doesn't look too bad.''
With that he marched forward, slowly moving his flag through the dead winter grass. After a short tick patrol, he stopped to inspect his flag.
''We've got ticks -- four males!'' he shouted.
Some folks get a case of the screaming willies when they see one of the little vampires crawling in search of a blood letting. Not Clover, 59, who is a retired medical entomologist for the California State Health Department. He still likes to keep tabs on ticks, periodically writing a paper about the creatures or taking a group on a ''tick'' tour.
He has a map of Jackson County with colored-in areas where he has found the parasites. And he has found them just about everywhere, from the parcel he and his wife, Annette Parsons, own in the Applegate Valley to the Table Rocks.
''If you don't want to run into a tick, then you'd better stay in bed,'' he said. ''They are all over.''
In slightly less than an hour, he found two dozen ticks, including several that had attached themselves to his lower pant legs.
With at least 40 species of ticks, Oregon is heaven to Clover. Many of the ticks he finds are Ixodes pacificus, the western black-legged tick known to carry Lyme disease's spirochete bacteria in its gut. The western black-legged tick can be found in Jackson and Josephine counties as well as Northern California and most coastal counties stretching into British Columbia. He also found plenty of dermacenter occidentalis, sometimes known as a wood tick.
''It doesn't transmit Lyme,'' he said. ''But it can carry diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever. That's not very common, however.''
Nor is it common for someone bitten by a tick to contract Lyme disease, he said.
''Adult ticks are out right now, usually up on grass where they will wait,'' he said. ''They have the patience of Job. They'll wait until an animal walks by. When something bumps into them, they'll swing aboard and start climbing.''
He did a study in Mendocino County in California where an adult tick remained on the same blade of grass for two months waiting for lunch.
''When I started in this, I was working with mosquitoes,'' he said. ''I was told that ticks are no fun; fleas are no fun; plague is boring.''
But he was working in Santa Rosa when the first Lyme disease case on the West Coast was found in nearby Marin County in 1984.
''That was my area so I got involved,'' he said. ''I soon discovered that no one really knew much about ticks.''
A biologist by training, Clover got the bug for the creepy crawlers.
''The fact there was a lot of unknowns intrigued me,'' he said.
He quickly found out that, contrary to what most people then believed, ticks look for blood even in winter.
''There are also a lot of misconceptions that they fall out of trees onto your head,'' he said. ''They don't do that. Instead, they are generally found on vegetation no higher than an average adult's knees,'' he said.
Tall grass is an ideal habitat. While male ticks remain small, females will gorge themselves if given the opportunity, growing to the size of a small grape, he said.
''A female can feed for four to five days if she is not disturbed,'' he said. ''They have a mouth part that is like a tiny harpoon.''
The longer a tick is attached, the greater the chance of it transmitting a disease, he said.
''In essence you've got maybe 24 to 48 hours to find it and get it off before you have a chance of getting a disease,'' he said.
Ticks start their lives as eggs hatched in leaf litter. After growing into six-legged larvae, they attach themselves to a mouse or other ground dweller for their first blood meal. From there they turn into nymphs which require another blood meal before turning into an adult.
''You see the adults from November through April,'' he said as he continued walking through the grass. ''The nymphs are around February through July.''
With that, he stopped to inspect a tiny dark object on the end of a stem of dry grass.
''Here is a female that is 'questing' -- putting her legs out to grab onto something,'' he said before putting her into his vial with the other ticks. ''I love doing this,'' he said as he walked off through the grass waving his white flag. ''It's fun. It's a kid's game.''
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