11 Myths About Ticks, Debunked

iStock
iStock

It's officially summer, which means tick season is in full swing. Like other creepy crawlies that feed on our blood and spread disease, ticks can cause a lot of anxiety, which has led to plenty of misinformation regarding how dangerous they are, how they find prey, and the best ways to get rid of them. Before venturing outdoors, read up on the most common myths about ticks.

1. THE MYTH: BURNING THEM WORKS BETTER THAN TWEEZERS.

Person using tweezers to remove a tick from a dog's ear.
iStock

After spotting a tick latched to their body, some people make the problem worse by grabbing a lighter. According to the myth, burning a tick off your skin is the most efficient way to remove it, but Kirby C. Stafford, the chief entomologist at the Connecticut Department of Entomology, says this thinking is misguided. "Imagine trying to burn something the size of a sesame seed or poppy seed or smaller attached closely to your skin," he tells Mental Floss. In addition to being potentially painful and dangerous, this method also puts you at a higher risk of infection. According to a paper from 1996, people who had dealt with ticks using non-tweezer methods were more likely to contract a tickborne disease. People who removed them by pinching them with tweezers close to their skin and lifting them off, as Stafford recommends, were less likely to get sick.

2. THE MYTH: SWABBING THEM WITH SOAP IS AN EFFECTIVE REMOVAL METHOD.

Two ticks on a white dog.
iStock

If you're squeamish about plucking off a tick with tweezers, smothering it with a cotton ball soaked with liquid soap, nail polish remover, or rubbing alcohol may sound like a tempting alternative. But this is another bogus method experts recommend you avoid. Creating an inhospitable environment for the tick in the hopes of it detaching on its own takes more time than removing it with tweezers, and that creates more opportunities for pathogens to enter your bloodstream. Only swab with rubbing alcohol after the tick has been removed—it's a good way to kill lingering microbes.

3. THE MYTH: YOU CAN FEEL A TICK BITE WHEN IT HAPPENS.

Tick feeding on blood.
iStock

Don't count on a tick alerting you to its presence when it digs in to feed—most tick bites are painless, so unless you're looking for it, a tick can go undetected on your body for days or however long it takes to get its fill. So instead of assuming you'll feel the tick if it's there, make a habit of scanning your clothes and body whenever you come in from the outdoors, using a hand mirror to check the spots you can't see.

4. THE MYTH: TICKS ARE ONLY A PROBLEM WHEN YOU'RE HIKING OR CAMPING.

Tick warning sign posted on a tree.
iStock

People tend to worry about ticks when they're on a weekend camping trip or a long hike through the woods—not so much when they're safe at home on their own property. But according to Stafford, most people pick up deer ticks close to their houses. Even if you don't live in a heavily wooded area, certain spots of your yard may be harboring them. "They can be found in groundcover, mixed unkempt grassy vegetation, and similar areas," he says, "even on a trip to the mailbox on the street or by the garden hose next to the front porch."

5. THE MYTH: TICKS ARE EASY TO SPOT.

A tick hiding under human hair.
iStock

Many people have only seen a tick after it has been feeding on their blood for days. This doesn't paint an accurate picture of what the arachnid looks like most of the time: When they’re engorged, female deer ticks are two to three times their normal body size and darker than usual. In order to catch a tick before it has a chance to make a meal of you, you need to look for a reddish-brown speck that's roughly 3 to 5 millimeters long, or the size of a sesame seed, while nymphal ticks—which are responsible for the majority of infections—are the size of a poppy seed.

6. THE MYTH: TICKS DISAPPEAR IN THE WINTER.

Engorged deer tick.
iStock

You're most likely to encounter ticks during the warmer months, but that doesn't mean you should let your guard down completely come winter. While adult ticks are dormant for most of the season, they can be active as long as the weather is warmer than 40°F—and with climate change raising temperatures year-round, unseasonably warm winter days are more likely than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control, illnesses spread by ticks more than doubled between 2004 and 2016, and experts pin part of the blame on the weather.

7. THE MYTH: ONLY DEER TICKS ARE DANGEROUS.

Close-up of a deer tick.
iStock

Deer ticks are notorious for transmitting Lyme Disease, an illness that can cause serious symptoms, especially if it's not caught early. While deer ticks and the related western blacklegged tick are the only tick species in America known to spread Lyme, the American dog tick of the eastern half of the U.S. is a common carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can be life-threatening when not treated with antibiotics. The lone star tick, which is native to the southern and eastern U.S., made news last year for producing a spontaneous allergy to red meat in some of its victims.

8. THE MYTH: TICKS JUMP FROM TREES.

Three ticks crawling on a branch.
iStock

Ticks are bad enough without having to worry about them raining down on you every time you walk under a tree. Fortunately, these kamikaze-style attacks are just a myth. Ticks can't fly or jump, and they much prefer hanging out near the ground where they can attach to the legs of passing mammals to lurking in tree branches far from their prey. But that doesn't mean your scalp is safe. As Stafford says, "Most are picked up on the legs and they can crawl up amazingly quickly." He says a deer tick is capable of scaling a leg in a few minutes or less.

9. THE MYTH: A TICK HEAD IS STILL DANGEROUS AFTER YOU REMOVE THE BODY.

Tick bite next to a freckle.
iStock

Ideally when you pull off a tick with tweezers you should remove the whole thing—not just the body without its head. But if you aren't 100 percent sure you got the full tick off on the first try, don't panic. A disembodied head or biting apparatus attached to your skin won't be able to transmit disease, move on its own, or grow back into a full tick. It might irritate the skin around it, but usually it will fall out on its own.

10. THE MYTH: TICKS CAN SMELL BLOOD.

Tick held up by tweezers.
iStock

Ticks have a keen sense of smell they use to hunt their prey, but it isn't blood they're searching for. They've evolved to sense carbon dioxide, a.k.a. the gas you emit every time you exhale. When a tick detects CO2, it might (depending on the species) react by dashing toward its potential host—and unless you can hold your breath whenever you're outside, there's not much you can do to hide from them.

11. THE MYTH: LYME DISEASE ALWAYS COMES WITH A BULLSEYE RASH.

A bullseye rash from a tick bite.
iStock

If it’s been several days since you were bitten by a tick and there’s still no sign of the telltale bullseye rash at the bite site, you may assume you’re in the clear. But according to the National Center for Health Research, fewer than 50 percent of all Lyme infections produce this symptom. A more accurate way to check if you have the disease is to look for several early symptoms instead of just one—these might include muscle weakness in the face, lightheadedness and shortness of breath, fever, and joint pain. These signs usually appear within a month following a tick bite if you’ve been infected.

8 Things You Might Not Know About James A. Garfield

iStock
iStock

Owing to his untimely demise at the hands of assassin Charles Guiteau in 1881, 20th U.S. president James Garfield served only seven months in office, the second-shortest tenure after William Henry Harrison. (The equally unfortunate Harrison famously succumbed to pneumonia—though it might have been typhoid—one month into his term.) Not quite 50 at the time of his passing, Garfield nonetheless managed to pack a lot of experience into his short but eventful life. Read on for some facts about his childhood, his election non-campaign, and why Alexander Graham Bell thought he could help save Garfield's life. (Spoiler: He couldn't.)

1. He originally wanted to sail the open seas.

Garfield was born in Orange, Ohio on November 19, 1831. He never had a chance to know his father, Abram, who died before James turned 2 years old. As a child, Garfield was enamored with adventure novels and imagined a career as a sailor. "Nautical novels did it," he once said. "My mother tried to turn my attention in other directions, but the books were considered bad and from that very fact were fascinating." As a teenager, he got a job towing barges, but that was about as far as his seafaring would get. He attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now called Hiram College) in Hiram, Ohio and Williams College in Massachusetts before settling in as a Greek and Latin teacher at Hiram, where he would later become president.

2. He was a Civil War veteran.

James Garfield in his military uniform
Mathew Brady/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

If Garfield longed for adventure, he eventually found it, though perhaps not quite in the way he anticipated as a child. After being elected to the Ohio senate in 1859, Garfield joined the Union army at age 29 during the outbreak of war against the Confederates in 1861. Garfield saw combat in several skirmishes, including the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Chickamauga, before then-president Abraham Lincoln convinced him to resign his military post so he could devote his time to advocating for Ohio in the House of Representatives in 1863. He became the leading Republican in the House before being elected to the Senate for the 1881 term.

3. He never pursued presidential office.

Garfield thought he was attending the 1880 Republican National Convention to stump for Treasury Secretary John Sherman as the party's presidential candidate. Instead, the convention came to an impasse over Sherman, James Blaine, and Ulysses S. Grant. To help unclog the stalemate, Wisconsin's delegation threw Garfield's name into the hat as a compromise candidate. Not only did he win the election (opposing Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock), but he became the only sitting House member elected president. The whole process took Garfield by surprise, as he once told friends that "this honor comes to me unsought. I have never had the presidential fever, not even for a day."

4. He got caught up in an immigration scandal.

Just weeks before the general presidential election in November 1880, Garfield's political opponents tried to deal a fatal blow to his campaign by circulating a letter Garfield had written to an associate named H.L. Morey addressing the matter of foreign workers. In it, Garfield supported the idea of Chinese laborers, a controversial point of view at a time the country was nervous about immigration affecting employment. Democrats handed out hundreds of thousands of copies of the letter in an effort to sour voters on his candidacy. In Denver, the prospect of foreign workers prompted a riot. At first, Garfield remained silent, but not because he was ashamed of the letter. He simply couldn't recall writing or signing it—it was dated just after he was elected to the Senate, and he had signed lots of letters that he and his friends wrote in reply to the congratulatory messages he had received. But after consulting with his friends he issued a denial, and after seeing a reproduction in a newspaper, Garfield announced it was a phony. Furthermore, "H.L. Morey" didn't seem to exist. Turns out, the letter was planted by the opposition to discredit Garfield's name. Journalist Kenward Philp, who published the letter, was put on trial for libel and forgery but acquitted. One witness who claimed they met Morey was jailed for eight years for perjury.

5. He defended civil rights.

Several presidents in or near Garfield's era—Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson—had less than flattering views on Reconstruction and civil rights. But Garfield made his opinion abundantly clear. Speaking during his inauguration, Garfield celebrated the dissolution of slavery and called it "the most important political change" since the Constitution. Garfield also appointed four black men to his administration, including activist Frederick Douglass as recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia.

6. He didn't get particularly great medical care after being shot.

Illustration of Garfield's assassination.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

A former Garfield supporter, Charles Guiteau, was erroneously convinced that Garfield owed him a European ambassadorship. After his letters and drop-ins were ignored by the administration for months, he shot Garfield twice at a train station in Washington, D.C. The president was quickly tended to by a number of physicians in the hopes he could survive the bullet stuck in his abdomen, but the doctors didn't bother washing their hands before sticking their fingers in his wound. (At the time, the idea of an antiseptic medical environment was being promoted but not widely used.) For two weeks, Garfield languished in bed as his caregivers attempted to remove the projectile but succeeded only in worsening both the incision in his stomach and the accompanying infection. A heart attack, blood infection, and splenic artery rupture followed. He hung on for roughly 80 days before dying on September 19, 1881. Guiteau was hanged for the crime in 1882.

7. Alexander Graham Bell tried to save his life.

During Garfield's bedridden final days, the public at large tried their best to lend sympathies and possible solutions. One letter writer suggested that doctors simply turn him upside-down so the bullet would fall out. A slightly more reasonable—but no more effective—tactic was offered by Alexander Graham Bell. Inviting a large measure of respect for his invention of the telephone, Bell was allowed to use a makeshift metal detector over Garfield's body to see if the electromagnetic fields would be disrupted by the presence of the bullet, revealing its location in Garfield's abdomen. Bell was unsuccessful, though he reportedly did manage to detect the metal in the president's mattress.

8. A classical statue was erected in his honor soon after his death.

Despite his short and somewhat uneventful tenure, Garfield quickly (as in, within six years) received an honor equal to more renowned American presidents. Sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward, who is probably best known for his oversized bronze of George Washington that stands on the grounds of his inauguration at Federal Hall in New York, unveiled his Garfield monument in 1887 at the foot of the Capitol building. The statue, which depicts Garfield giving a speech, also sports three figures along its granite pedestal base: a student (representing Garfield's stint as a teacher), a warrior (for his military service), and a toga-sporting elder statesman (to signify his political career).

The 20 Best Christmas Movies of All Time

iStock.com/Satyrenko
iStock.com/Satyrenko

There’s a difference between a Christmas movie and a movie that happens to be set at Christmastime. One evokes the spirit of the holiday—the atmosphere, the charity, the awkward family meals—while the other shows snow falling and the occasional Santa hat to set the mood. This key difference is why the debate surrounding Die Hard being “a Christmas movie” is always so heated. Is it solely a matter of the calendar or does a true Christmas movie need to reflect the soul of the season?

It’s also a genre that’s oversaturated with new, harmless movies every year seeking to thaw icy hearts and let them grow three sizes after a tub of popcorn. Which makes the enduring legacies of the very best Christmas movies that much more impressive.

We all have our own lineup of movies, old and more recent, that instantly leaps to mind when you think of Christmas. Movies that you watch on repeat without fail this time of year. Movies that have achieved Christmas immortality.

Here are the 20 best movies that capture the heart of Christmas (in alphabetical order, as we love them all too much to play total favorites).

1. Babes In Toyland (1961)

There were more than a few adaptations of Victor Herbert’s operetta before this one, but the Disneyfication of the fairy tale mash-up created a Technicolor jolt of Christmas adventure. Mouseketeer Annette Funicello shines as the secret heir to a fortune, but the movie’s best weapon is Ed Wynn as the Toymaker, pouring pure delight on everything he touches. 

2. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

This may be the only romantic comedy where a handsome young man helps a beautiful woman stay with her slightly cranky husband. Of course, Cary Grant is actually a handsome young angel whose mission is to help a Bishop (David Niven) in the midst of raising money for a new cathedral. Sometimes you pray for help and God sends the hottest actor in Hollywood to take your wife ice skating in order to remind you that kindness isn’t about funding a fancy new building.

3. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

The shortest of the movies on this list, Charles M. Schulz’s holiday special left an indelible mark on pop culture in less than half an hour. The animated wonder simultaneously gave us the best Christmas monologue about the crappiest tree and a jazzy Christmas soundtrack courtesy of Vince Guaraldi.

4. A Christmas Story (1983)

There’s a reason TBS plays this on a loop for a full 24 hours heading into the big day. Endlessly quotable, the youthful memoir is stacked with iconic moments involving tongues on flagpoles, risqué leg lamps, a sadistic Santa, and a super safe BB gun. Go ahead and shout out all your favorite lines right now. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

5. The Christmas Toy (1986)

Long before Buzz and Woody, Jim Henson produced a movie about an overconfident toy tiger who puts a playroom full of toys at risk because he can’t handle being supplanted by a new favorite toy. They all come to life when people aren’t around, and flop down when the playroom door opens, but they get frozen forever if a human touches them out of their original place. It’s a funny, imaginative gem, and I wore out the VHS when I was a kid.

6. Christmas Vacation (1989)

The blessing! More outright embarrassing and less sardonic than A Christmas Story, the Griswold family’s suburban misadventures lovingly devolve into the kind of chaos that requires a SWAT team. If you’re hosting your whole family, a flaming, flying set of plastic reindeer may just be the best symbol for the season. Fun fact: Mae Questel (who stole scenes as Aunt Bethany) sounds familiar because she was the voice of Olive Oyl and Betty Boop.

7. Die Hard (1988)

Yup, it’s on the list. Not merely set during Christmastime, John McClane’s harrowing rescue of his wife’s office mates is a bit like an action version of Ebenezer Scrooge. He starts off cranky and hateful of the season but remembers the true value of love and kindness after being visited by multiple people with guns who teach him to share what he has with others and give selflessly to those in need.

8. Elf (2003)

There is no tamping down Buddy the Elf’s enthusiasm. Like a retelling of Big with yellow tights and a green, pointy hat, Will Ferrell navigates the big city world of cynics to help them locate their inner child and believe in Christmas again. The main gag is how ridiculous Ferrell is as a giant elf, but the movie turns to magic because of its refusal to be even slightly mean-spirited. It’s like taking a big bite out of spaghetti topped with M&Ms, marshmallows, sprinkles, and chocolate syrup.

9. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

It’s “The Gift of the Magi” with singing river otters. That’s an automatic win on the adorability scale, but Jim Henson’s tale of family togetherness glides by on sheer sweetness and joy, revealing that you don’t have to have expensive equipment (or even a good band name) to create beautiful harmonies.

10. Frosty The Snowman (1969)

The tip top of children’s Christmas movies is dominated by Walt Disney, Jim Henson, and Rankin/Bass, who stepped away from stop-motion animation for this story based on the wildly popular holiday tune. It’s wondrous, but it’s also more harrowing than you remember. As soon as Frosty is given life, he’s aware of his own melting mortality, and the entire plot of the story is about figuring out how he can survive. It’s also impressive for having a mediocre children’s party magician as the villain.

11. Home Alone (1990)

John Hughes must have suffered some kind of vacation-based trauma, because this and Christmas Vacation both focus on the hilarious worsts of time away from the office. For the Griswolds it’s living beyond their means and needing more lights. For Kevin McCallister, it’s about neglect that should demand a call to CPS. The lesson of every elementary schooler’s dream of independence is that it’s okay to order your own cheese pizza as long as you also buy more toothpaste and fight off violent robbers. And if you love seeing Home Alone on this list but bristle at Die Hard’s inclusion, think twice, because they’re essentially the same movie.

12. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Why they keep trying to improve on perfection is beyond comprehension. Keep Jim Carrey. Keep Benedict Cumberbatch. Give me Chuck Jones’s animation team featuring Boris Karloff and the legendary voice talent June Foray. It’s a madcap comic masterpiece with a message of kindness served up piping hot next to the roast beast. Sadly, the sequel, Halloween is Grinch Night, never quite caught on.

13. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Like most of you, I often fantasize about what It’s a Wonderful Life would be like starring The Grinch. I mean, who’s The Grinch’s guardian angel? Obviously, Frank Capra’s classic tale of redemption is in the eternal top five of Christmas films thanks to Jimmy Stewart’s mournfully enthusiastic performance and its overall message that one life matters. It, more than just about any other movie, has come to represent Christmastime itself—a ubiquitous presence on TV screens everywhere throughout December.

14. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Not just one of the best Christmas movies, but one of the very best films of its release year, Miracle on 34th Street soars with a charismatic performance from Maureen O’Hara and precocious side eye from a young Natalie Wood. Is Santa real? And is he the old gentleman you helped get a job at the department store? Cynicism is incinerated by this infectiously warm movie—one of the only films in history where the US Postal Service acts as Deus Ex Machina.

15. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Undoubtedly controversial, everyone has their personal favorite version of Charles Dickens’s important treatise on humanity and self-inflicted loneliness. The 175-year-old story has been adapted more than 100 times counting movies, TV, radio, and graphic novels. Maybe 1951’s Scrooge is your favorite, maybe you like George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart best. The Muppets and Michael Caine, though, brought a fresh, playful flavor that allowed a rat to co-narrate.

16. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

What’s this? What’s this? It’s Henry Selick’s perfect stop-motion celebration of Christmas cheer through a Gothic lens. With so many Christmas movies, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, but The Nightmare Before Christmas is defiantly different. Mostly because it has werewolves, a singing sack filled with bugs, and a ghost dog who saves the day. So many movies focus on Christmas getting canceled because Santa gets detained, so it’s nice to see a movie about the ghouls who detain him.

17. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The epic story of a misfit caribou who finds purpose because of what makes him unique, this Rankin/Bass tale is the longest continuously aired Christmas special of all time. It’s shown up on screens every year since 1964, thrilling young and young-at-heart viewers alike with vibrant animation, fun songs, and, for some awesome reason, an abominable snowman.

18. The Santa Clause (1994)

So many great Christmas movies follow Dickens’s blueprint of transforming someone skeptical into a true believer, and this Tim Allen comedy goes one step further by converting the crank into Kris Kringle. It’s ostensibly an argument against growing up too soon (or at all), and it established the Highlander-esque rule that, if Santa dies from falling off your roof, you become Santa.

19. Scrooged (1988)

Another stellar adaptation of Dickens, Richard Donner’s manic spree recasts Scrooge as a power-hungry television president played by a breathless Bill Murray. Beyond its intrinsic entertainment value and Carol Kane’s national treasure status, it also gives us all a break from a season of sentimental stories. It’s also a reminder that we should petition to make “Robert Goulet’s Cajun Christmas” a real thing.

20. White Christmas (1954)

There’s just nothing better than opening those big stage doors to discover the snow you’ve waited months for has finally arrived on Christmas Eve while Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye croon about our days being merry and bright. The songs and dance routines are fantastic, the story is nostalgic and goofy, and the charm is on full blast. Even growing up in a place where it never snowed, this was the ideal.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER