Ticks, Bedbugs, and Sea Kayaking

hundred and fifty miles by truck, an offshore island, and a cave in
24 hours. Back in my medical school/ Haight Asbury days this would
have been a Hunter S. Thompson saga of blotter acid,
methamphetamines, THC, and high-speed travel. But, I’m more mature
now and as I have discovered, The Eddy Line is a family
publication, so I am writing to chronicle a serious endeavor.

bunch of the boys and I was talkin’ about bats, ticks, rabies, Rocky
Mountain spotted fever and other fun things the other day. Then, I
remembered an article Will published last year on new ticks he had
discovered in South Carolina (Reeves W, Durden L, Wills W. New
records of ticks (Acari: Argasidae, Ixodidae) from South Carolina. J
Agric Urban Entomol
2002;19:197-204). Then it all sort of fell
into place and a visit to Devaux Island at the mouth of the North
Edisto River near Charleston became imperative.

some background for your general edification and to maintain Eddy
continuing outdoor education requirements. Ticks transmit
more varieties of pathogens than any other group of blood-feeding
arthropods and are second only to mosquitoes in their importance as
disease vectors. Pathogens (germs that make you sick) spread by ticks
include viruses, rickettsia, protozoa, spirochetes, and bacteria.
Arthropods include mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks, mites, fleas, and
bedbugs. A vector is an arthropod (or any living carrier) that
transports a pathogen from the sick to the well.

South Carolina, ticks are important vectors of many diseases
including Lyme disease, cat-scratch fever, and Rocky Mountain spotted
fever. Soft ticks are especially bad. These aren’t the ones you find
latched onto your dog and from which the expression “tighter ‘n
a tick” was coined. No. Soft ticks find a victim (woops we
epidemiologists call them hosts), feed for 20 minutes or so, and then
drop off to molt, have sex, lay eggs, or just hang-out. Then when
they are good and ready they prowl around (sometimes tens of
thousands of them simultaneously) looking for the next meal. Unlike
the usual tick you are used to, soft ticks live forever. One, at
least, survived 25 years without feeding in a vial on Harry
Hoagstral’s desk.

ticks are usually host-specific, that is they prefer to feed on one
species. But they’re like creekers, so if the usual host is not
available anything will do. Also, unlike most vectors, virtually any
virus, rickettsia, or bacteria will grow in ticks. In the old days,
before overnight shipping and insulated containers, scientists used
to ship infectious agents by injecting them into soft ticks, putting
the ticks into a vial, and mailing them. When they arrived at their
destination the recipient would grind-up the ticks and recover the
virus or whatever.

what does this all have to do with sea kayaking? Well, one of the
reasons people sea kayak is to observe wildlife and sea birds
generally get photographed a lot. Both brown pelicans and laughing
gulls are quite common in the summer and many of them winter on the
islands as well. More important, they migrate up and down the coast
(pelicans from North Carolina to Venezuela and gulls

the Caribbean). They’re both pretty good sized, so lots of soft bird
ticks can feed on them. Finally, both pelicans and gulls nest on the
ground, so soft ticks can drop off and climb back on again cafeteria
style when they get hungry. When Will surveyed Devaux Island last
May, pelican and gull nests were literally crawling with soft ticks
and he collected a new species previously not known to live in South
Carolina. Good news, they could not isolate viruses from them, and
even better, we found only one stinking tick during our visit to the
Island in January.

may still be asking what this all has to do with sea kayaking. Well,
in addition to being aware of ticks when you’re camping, you need to
know about Devaux Island because it’s a destination in its own right,
if you just happen to be in the Charleston area. Devaux is about four
miles down the North Edisto River from the boat ramp in Rockville,
and is about midway between Hilton Head Island and Charleston.

trip out is scenic but (as always) you should check tide tables. It’s
a young and dynamic island that I would classify between a typical
barrier island and a large semipermanent sandbar, which extends above
high tide.

is formed where the discharge of the Edisto River meets the sea. It
has been there long enough to support some small trees on the tops of
dunes. Fascinatingly, it’s a bit like an atoll, in that there is a
rather large lagoon that you can paddle into.

the island is a couple of miles in diameter so it provides a lot to
explore. We had no problem landing from the north, but there was
considerable violent chop (similar to that around Tybee’s triangle)
to the west. The south (sea) exposure would have provided an
“interesting, entertaining, carnage filled” landing.

addition to pelicans and gulls, Devaux serves as a feeding and
nesting area for dunlins, terns and skimmers. We also saw quite
active osprey, anhinga and kestrel. The island is particularly
vulnerable to intrusion during nesting season (March to July) so
don’t plan to visit then.

area around Devaux is infested with dolphin. I have never seen so
many, and 10 or so of them were feeding within 5′ of the shore the
entire time we were on the island. Overall, Devaux offers variety
from the usual barrier islands and marshes that we all have visited,
so it’s well worth checking out.

Where do the cave and bedbugs come in? Well no boating trip is
complete unless you also get in some caving. So, on the way back to
Clemson we stopped to collect bedbugs from bat guano in one the
numerous inland reef caves in the area. That is of course a
completely different story that I’ll have to tell another time.

William C. Reeves (The Hawk)
The Eddy Line, March 2004