HARRISBURG — This winter’s frigid temperatures may be killing off a portion of Pennsylvania’s tick population, according to a report from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The report cites studies that show how freezing temperatures can decrease the tick population by about 20 percent.

Mike Hutchinson, who studies ticks for the state Department of Environmental Protection, says that will at least make a dent, however small, in decreasing the population.

“They can survive the cold winters, but if you get a long stretch where the temperatures are very low, you will have more ticks die off,” he said.

Hutchinson says insects survive cold months by finding warm places to nest under leaves and soil.

A warm winter day will awaken them from hibernation.

“From December to March, there are a number of days where it will be above 40 degrees and the ticks will be questing, which means they’re looking for a host,” he said.

State officials say Pennsylvania has led the nation in confirmed cases of Lyme disease. In 2016 alone, there were more than 12,000 cases from the black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick. That’s why the state Department of Health wants people checking for ticks year-round.

“We really do recommend, no matter the season, that you take precautions to make sure that a tick doesn’t make you sick,” said April Hutcheson, a Health Department spokesperson.

Experts say the risk for Lyme disease is lowest from December to March.

However, they say you should never let your guard down.

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