Those really aren’t ticks on your Christmas tree – here’s why

KINGSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s Christmas tree season and a bug expert at the University of Rhode Island says when you bring that fresh tree home and see what you think is a tick on it — it’s likely not what you think.

The threat of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is quite prevalent in Southern New England, and the last thing you want to worry about is the presence of ticks on your family’s Christmas tree.

“They’re concerned they’re going to bring in a little more nature than they wanted to,” said Dr. Tom Mather of the Department of Plant Sciences and Entomology.

But what may appear to be ticks on the tree are harmless to humans.

They’re aphids, Dr. Mather said; “their technical name is the Cinara aphids.

“You need to be rest assured that these things are not ticks, and it’s very unlikely that you’d get a tick from a Christmas tree.”

To be clear, you could indeed possibly pick up a tick from the field while you’re looking for a tree, Dr. Mather said, but a deer tick likely wouldn’t live on the tree itself.

The aphids, however, are a different story. They go to the tree’s trunk to suck out and feed on the tree sap. They’ll travel with the tree until it dries out.

Dr. Mather advises you to not crush or swat them. The sap they consume can stain carpeting and furniture. Instead, “just vacuum them up, and get rid of the vacuum bag after you vacuum them up.”

According to URI’s tick website – TickEncounter.org – an easy way to tell is by the number of legs. Ticks are arachnids – so they have eight legs and no antennae. Aphids have six legs and antennae.

At most, he said the aphids are just a minor nuisance.

If you’re ever unsure if you’re dealing with a tick or not, information on the URI Tick Encounter website has information on identifying ticks and dealing with them.

But be forewarned: if you’re prone to skin crawling when you see a bug — up-close-and-personal pictures abound of all sorts of bugs.