Heading out to set up a ground blind to hunt turkey in Stephens County, Brokenridge Ranch owner Tom Mansell handed the visiting hunter an old sock.
“Whack this on your boots and pants,” he said.
“What’s in it?” the hunter asked.
“Sulphur. It keeps the ticks and chiggers off of you,” Mansell replied. “It’s an old remedy I heard about growing up in Alabama. I haven’t had any ticks on me for years since using it.”
The sulphur dust goes through the sock and, like a powder puff, invisibly coated the hunter’s boots and pant legs.
“Use an old, thin sock so the dust goes through,” Mansell said.
An internet search reveals sulphur in an old sock is indeed an age-old remedy — and it works, although probably not as well as the commercial repellants containing DEET or permethrin.
“Sulphur is a well known repellant for mites (including chiggers) and ticks,” said Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Entomologist Mike Merchant. “People have been using sulphur socks for years. It’s not quite as good as DEET, but preferable for some because it’s more natural and it’s cheap. It doesn’t work for insects, though.
“And it’s tick season, I got my first one, a deer tick, the other day.”
The why or how sulphur works isn’t really known.
“Actually, how all repellants work is something of a mystery,” Merchant said. “Odor detection is the most important sense for ticks and insects, so distaste is a possibility. I have an entire book on repellants in the office — it has one sentence on sulphur.”
Merchant said sulphur works to repel ticks if placed on a person’s clothing or directly on the skin.
“You can apply it to the skin of your arms and legs,” he said. “But there is an odor — it may make you less socially interactive.”
Hunters and fishermen combing the banks of rivers or lakes know the eery feeling of a tick on the skin, along with the irritation of having to remove one that has taken hold. Infection and other diseases, like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, increase the concern from a tick bite.
In Texas, there’s an App for that, created by Texas A&M, that works on the web or smartphone, said Otto Strey, a lab technician with the university.
The App, http://tickapp.tamu.edu, covers tick identification, tick biology, tick removal and tick prevention and protection.
The sulphur sock, although not mentioned in the App, is cheap — a box of dusting sulphur costs a few bucks at a garden center, and the old sock is free.
And it lasts.
“That sock has been hanging there for three years and it’s still working,” Mansell said.