Asian longhorned tick has been confirmed in three counties in Kentucky — Floyd, Martin and Metcalfe — according to Ric Bessin and Jonathan Larson, University of Kentucky entomologists. The samples were found on a black bear, elk and cow, respectively. In Metcalfe County the cow was reported to have hundreds of this tick.
This is an exotic tick native to China, Korea and Japan. It has spread to Australia and New Zealand as well, 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, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
It is a known serious pest of livestock, pets, and humans. Reported hosts include 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 with no distinctive markings to aid in quick recognition. The unfed adults are smaller (3 to 4 millimeters long) than the other adult hard ticks that we commonly encounter such as lonestar ticks and black-legged deer ticks. This species is capable of disease transmission, though the pathogens associated with it in its native range have not been found in the U.S. However, recent laboratory research indicates this species could be a competent vector for spotted fever rickettsia, a disease we have seen increased incidences of in this state. However, we do not yet know if these ticks are able to pass these germs in nature.
This species is an aggressive biter and frequently builds intense infestations on domestic hosts that can cause stress, reduced growth and severe blood loss. One 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 and it is likely that some ticks will contain germs that can be harmful to animals.
You should protect 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.
If you think you have found an Asian longhorned tick, remove any tick from people and animals as quickly as possible. Save the ticks in rubbing alcohol in a jar or a zip-tight bag, then contact a veterinarian for information about how to protect pets from ticks and tick bites and contact your county Extension office about ticks on livestock or for tick identification and to confirm samples.
Susan Fox is the Lyon County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.