By Gregory B. Hladky, Originally published in the Hartford Courant
Another invasive and disease-carrying tick has been discovered in Connecticut, but the good news is that the Asian longhorned tick preys primarily on livestock and wildlife and isn’t yet considered a threat to humans in the U.S.,experts say.
The newly arrived pest was found by scientists at Western Connecticut State University during a July 3 tick monitoring project in Fairfield County, according to Brittany Schappach, a WCSU research assistant with the university’s Tickborne Disease Prevention Laboratory.
Connecticut experts weren’t surprised that the longhorned tick was found in this state.Asian longhorned ticks had previously been identified in Westchester County and other sections of New York. It has also been found in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas.
The species is believed to have arrived in the U.S. as early as 2010, but its presence wasn’t confirmed until 2017. In its native range in East Asia, the longhorned tick can transmit a potentially lethal virus to humans, but tests on these pests in the U.S. have not yet turned up evidence that the disease is present here.
Experts say this type of tick can multiply rapidly and does pose a serious threat to cattle, sheep, other domestic livestock, as well as wild animals. The tick can suck so much blood from young animals that they can weaken and die.
Schappach said that when she began to examine the ticks she collected from her July 3 survey, she knew she’d found something new to Connecticut. “Right away, when I was counting the ticks, I could tell this one was different,” Schappach said.
But Dr. Neeta Connally, director of the WCSU tick lab, said researchers weren’t sure exactly what species of tick had been found. The new specimen was sent to the Center for Vector Biology at Rutgers University, which confirmed it as a longhorned tick.
“We knew that there was a good chance the tick was present in Connecticut because it was recently spotted in neighboring New York state,” Connally said.
Kirby Stafford III, Connecticut’s state entomologist, said New York researchers recently found “substantial numbers in Westchester County,” just over the border from southwestern Connecticut.
One peculiar and disturbing characteristic of the longhorned tick is that, after feeding on blood, it can reproduce asexually without contact with males of its species. “It only takes one engorged female to reproduce,” Stafford said, which allows this type of pest to spread very rapidly.
In China, the longhorned species, or Haemaphysalis longicornis, is known to transmit to humans a disease known as “Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome Virus (SFTSV).” The disease is estimated to kill 15 percent of the people who become infected.
The pest is known as the “bush tick” in Australia and the “cattle tick” in New Zealand. Longhorned ticks were first discovered in those two nations about a century ago.
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