Ticks are always a concern for those of us who like to go outside to hike or hunt and for those of us who work in outdoor settings. Ticks are annoying blood thieves and they are also potent disease vectors, second only to mosquitoes. We have long had to contend with species such as the blacklegged deer tick, the Lonestar tick, and the American dog tick. Now, unfortunately, there is a new species we need to keep our eyes open for, the Asian longhorned tick. This tick, species name Haemaphysalis longicornis, has been confirmed in three different counties in Kentucky: Floyd, Martin, and Metcalfe. In Floyd and Martin counties, the samples were retrieved from a black bear and an elk, respectively. In Metcalfe County though, the sample came from a domesticated cow, which was reported to have hundreds of this tick living on it.
This is an exotic species, native to China, Korea, and Japan. It has spread previously to Australia and New Zealand, where it feeds on a variety of wild and domestic animals and humans. The Asian longhorned tick has only recently (2017) established populations in the United States. Thus far it has been confirmed in Arkansas, Delaware, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvannia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. This pest will have consequences that affect Kentucky wildlife and our animal industries. It has been found feeding on cow, deer, raccoon, opossum, cat, coyote, elk, fox, sheep goat, groundhog, horse, black bear, Canada goose, chicken, cottontail, red-tailed hawk, and skunk. Asian longhorned ticks are small, reddish brown ticks. Unlike the Lonestar tick with its distinct white dot or the American dog tick with its cream-colored patterns, the Asian longhorned tick has no distinctive markings to aid in quick recognition. The unfed adults are smaller (3 to 4 mm long) than the other adult hard ticks that we commonly encounter.
This species is an aggressive biter and frequently builds intense infestations on animal hosts that can cause stress, reduced growth, and severe blood loss. The reason for their rapid buildup on hosts 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. It is also a suspected vector of several viral, bacterial, and protozoan agents of livestock importance. There is ongoing testing of ticks collected in the United States to determine what diseases these ticks are potentially vectoring to animals.
This species is capable of disease transmission to humans as well, though the pathogens associated with it in its native range have not been found in the U.S. However, recent laboratory research indicates that this species could be a competent vector for spotted fever rickettsia, a disease that has had increased incidences in this state. However, we do not yet know if these ticks are able to pass these germs in nature.
While hearing about a new biting pest is stressful, hopefully you are already protecting yourself from tick bites when in tick habitat. Personal protective measures, such as the use of EPA-approved insect repellents and 0.5% permethrin-treated clothing, are effective against Asian longhorned ticks. Wearing light colored clothing, tucking your pants into your socks, and checking yourself frequently helps to spot ticks before they have a chance to attach. For help with tick control on cattle, please refer to this Extension publication: Insect Control for Beef Cattle (ENT-11)
If you find a suspect tick on you or if you have an animal experiencing higher than normal tick loads, please let us know. You can submit a sample to your local Extension office and ask for them to mail it to us on campus or you can direct an email with photos to the Entomology Department.
By Ric Bessin and Jonathan Larson, Entomology Extension Specialists