Thousands of these self-cloning ticks have been known to attack animals. They’re now in Kentucky.
Why the Asian longhorned tick is more than a menace
BY KARLA WARD JULY 21, 2020 11:05 PM , UPDATED JULY 22, 2020 01:11 PM
Pet and livestock owners be aware: an invasive species of tick that can reproduce without mating and is known to attack animals in large numbers has been found in Kentucky.
The Asian longhorned tick has been found in Martin and Floyd counties in Eastern Kentucky and in Metcalfe County in south-central Kentucky, according to a news release from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
“This tick is an aggressive biter and frequently builds intense infestations on domestic hosts that can cause stress, reduced growth and severe blood loss,” Jonathan Larson, UK extension entomologist, said in the release. “One reason for their rapid buildup is that the female ticks can lay eggs without mating. It only takes a single fed female tick to create a population of ticks. Potentially, thousands can be found on an animal.”
While small numbers of the ticks have been found on elk in Martin County and black bear in Floyd County, the Asian longhorned ticks in Metcalfe County were discovered “in large numbers” on a bull, according to the news release issued Tuesday.
“The Metcalfe County ticks were submitted by a veterinarian who answered a call about a bull so infested that it was showing signs of severe fatigue,” Anna Pasternak, a UK entomology graduate student who manages the Kentucky Tick Surveillance Program, said in the release.
The UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed Asian longhorn ticks in the sample from the veterinarian, and Pasternak and a student from the UK College of Public Health found more of the ticks in the field.
“With the first two findings being in Eastern Kentucky, the Metcalfe County finding is particularly troubling as it means the tick may have already spread farther across the state,” Pasternak said.
Aside from cattle, livestock including horses, sheep, goats and chickens can be affected by the ticks, as can cats and dogs, according to UK.
UK said that as they become more established in Kentucky, Asian longhorn ticks are also likely to negatively affect deer and other wildlife populations. They are known to bite deer and elk, as well as raccoons, possums, coyotes, foxes, groundhogs, Canada geese, cottontail rabbits, red-tailed hawks and skunks, UK said.
Research is being done to determine what diseases the ticks might spread among animals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the Asian longhorned tick appears to be less attracted to human hosts compared to other ticks commonly found in the United States.
More study is needed to determine how likely they are to pass diseases on to humans, according to the CDC.
There are two kinds of Asian longhorned ticks, according to Rutgers University. One form has both males and females, but the other reproduces through parthenogenesis during which females are able to essentially clone themselves, laying eggs that develop into mature ticks without the presence of a male.
The Asian longhorned ticks in the United States — as well as the populations in Australia and New Zealand where they have caused “significant losses” to cattle farmers — are the self-cloning kind, which allows them to spread efficiently, according to Rutgers. A recently-published study led by Rutgers researchers found that the U.S. populations likely began with three or more female ticks from northeast Asia.
Once in the United States, they were probably carried from place to place by wildlife, livestock and pets. The researchers said dogs in particular are effective carriers that allow ticks to cross state and international lines.
“Many countries require dogs to be treated for ticks and other parasites before entering the country, but the United States does not. We urge greater awareness of this issue to prevent future exotic tick introductions,” said Dina Fonseca, the study’s senior author and director of the Rutgers University Center for Vector Biology.
Asian longhorned ticks were first discovered in the United States in 2017 in New Jersey, though they had likely been here for several years previously. They also have been found in Arkansas, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, according to UK.
The CDC says researchers are looking for the ticks to determine where they have spread and what types of environments they prefer.
Asian longhorned ticks are small and reddish-brown, and they lack distinctive markings.
People who find a large number of ticks on pets or livestock should contact their veterinarian, and people who think they may have found an Asian longhorned tick should work with their county extension agent to get the tick submitted to UK entomologists for testing, the UK release stated.
People can use tick repellents and check themselves and their pets after outdoor activity to reduce the likelihood of tick bites.
The Asian longhorned tick has been found in three Kentucky counties this year. ANNA PASTERNAK UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY