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Exotic Asian tick species confirmed in Benton County

June 12, 2018 at 11:12 a.m.

As if all the ticks we knew about weren’t loathsome enough, a different, invasive species has been found on an unfortunate dog from Benton County.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Veterinary Services Laboratory on Tuesday confirmed that a tick taken from an Arkansas dog and submitted to a research program at Oklahoma State University was a Longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis).

This confirms the presence in Arkansas of a tick species the Agriculture Department considers a serious threat to livestock.

In other parts of the world, it has also become a threat to people, too, because, like other ticks, it can carry bacterial and viral diseases.

Originating in eastern Asia, the Longhorned tick was first identified in this country in 2017, on sheep in rural New Jersey. The sheep farmer went to her county agent when she found her arms covered in tiny ticks after shearing her flock. Her clothing was speckled with them too; according to a report by National Public Radio, the New Jersey researchers put her pants in the freezer — a good way to kill ticks.

Soon the Asian ticks turned up in Virginia and West Virginia. According to a news release from the Arkansas Agriculture Department, there are no known direct links between the cases in Arkansas and the other states.

But the species is not new. It is thought to have been carried on livestock from Japan to Australia in the 19th century and subsequently spread to New Caledonia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii. It is known to inhabit temperate parts of China and the former USSR, western Samoa, New Hebrides/Vanuatu and Tonga.

In mild climates, Longhorned ticks produce at least two generations a year, and if females can’t pair up with males, they essentially clone themselves.

They thrive upon a range of hosts, from mammals to birds. While it’s associated with cattle, serious infestations have been found on horses, deer and sheep. The ticks also have been found on people, cats, dogs, pigs, goats, badgers, wild cats, roe deer, spotted deer, bears, foxes, raccoons, rabbits, wallaroos, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots — and on birds: the Australian magpie and budgerigar.

Research has shown that the ticks can live on a house sparrow.

But as the state Health Department notes in online advice for preventing tickborne illness, “Ticks do not jump, fly or fall out of trees. They wait on low growing plants for a host (person or animal) to pass by. When a host brushes against the plant, the tick will cling to fur or clothing.”

Protective measures include staying out tall grass and dense vegetation; tucking pants legs into socks or boots; wearing light-colored clothing to make it easier to find crawling ticks; using repellents; and bathing or showering within two hours of outdoor activity.

Like deer-ticks, the nymphs of the Longhorned tick are very small (resembling tiny spiders) and can easily go unnoticed on animals and people.

A full body check for ticks on you, your children and pets is a normal part of life in Arkansas.

According to the Arkansas Agriculture Department, heavy infestations of Longhorned ticks can stunt growth, decrease production and lead to animal deaths. In other countries, the Longhorned tick has been implicated in diseases among humans, including severe fever with life-threatening anemia.

According to the state Agriculture Department news release, the Oklahoma lab identified the Longhorned tick by its photograph and through molecular typing of its body tissue. Research continues in cooperation with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

In the news release, State Veterinarian Dr. Brandon Doss calls on livestock producers, animal owners and veterinarians to notify the Arkansas Agriculture Department or USDA APHIS if they notice any unusual ticks, or ticks that occur in large numbers on an individual animal.

“We encourage livestock producers to work with their veterinarians to develop a tick prevention and control program,” he adds.

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