The Asian longhorned tick makes its way to the Ozarks

A tiny pest, with origins in eastern Asia, has made its way into the Ozarks. Researchers in Missouri recently confirmed the first finding of Asian longhorned ticks in the Show-Me State. The particular species was first found in Missouri, in June, in Greene County and Clay County. The Asian longhorned tick was identified in Benton County, Ark., in 2018.

Currently, more than 16 states have reported the discovery of Asian longhorned ticks in their regions. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Asian longhorned ticks are native to eastern Asia, but were introduced to Australia, New Zealand and the western Pacific Islands. Researchers surmise the ticks found their way to the United States around 2010 by hitching a ride on domestic pets, horses, livestock or humans. 

 Entomologists state livestock producers should keep an eye out for this “ticky” situation in their herd. 

“What is really unique about this one is the female doesn’t have to mate with a male to produce offspring,” Dr. Kelly Loftin, University of Arkansas professor and entomologist, said. “They are able to expand very rapidly and develop tremendous populations.”

A single female Asian longhorned tick can produce, parthenogenetically (without a male), a thousand or more eggs at a time. “And that is part of the issue with livestock; because of sheer numbers, animals can get covered in ticks and that can cause significant blood loss,” Loftin explained.

The Asian longhorned tick’s ability to produce such a large quantity of eggs means host animals can quickly develop a major infestation. According to the USDA, a severe infestation can kill an animal due to excessive blood loss.

“They don’t like to attach to human skin. They are less attracted to human skin so that is a positive.”

— Dr. Kelly Loftin,
University of Arkansas Professor and entomologist

Additionally, entomologists state the Asian longhorned tick can be a vector for several viral, bacterial and protozoal diseases in livestock and humans. The tick is quite small, the size of a sesame or poppy seed and light brown. An adult female full of blood is similar in size to a pea.

A bit of good news, the Asian longhorned tick does not prefer human hosts. “They don’t like to attach to human skin,” Loftin added. “They are less attracted to human skin so that is a positive.”

If humans find an Asian longhorned tick on themselves, they should precede as if it is a native tick. “I would be as concerned about being bitten by one of these ticks as I would about any tick,” Loftin said. “Just think of it as you would a Lonestar tick, in that, a lot of ticks can serve as vectors for diseases.” 

Experts recommend correctly removing the tick and placing it in a vial or plastic sandwich bag. Give the bagged tick to a veterinarian, entomologist, extension agent, doctor or other expert in the area. “If you see something strange or you see a tick that you don’t recognize, collect it and get it to a tick expert so they can look at it,” Loftin advised. 

The freezing temperatures and winter weather will not deter the Asian longhorned tick from spreading in the Ozarks. “It is associated with areas that get as cold as we are – I wouldn’t anticipate any significant mortality related to winter,” Loftin explained. Similar to ticks native to this area, Asian longhorned ticks have various mechanisms equipping them to survive cold temperatures. They can take cover under leaf litter or remain on a host through the cold spells. 

Researchers encourage producers to keep at eye out for the presence of Asian longhorned ticks on their livestock and to report what they find. “The more we know about their range the more we can educate producers on what they need to do to prevent economic losses or diseases in their animals,” Loftin said.


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