By Doug Graves
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Most people are aware of the problems associated with the American dog tick, brown dog tick and the blacklegged deer tick. But a tick the size of a poppy seed may prove to be the biggest pest of them all and its latest target is cattle.
The Asian Longhorned tick has recently been discovered in cattle herds in two Ohio counties. This tick has the capacity to wipe out livestock, cause anemia and transmit diseases.
“The Asian Longhorned tick can wage a campaign of destruction even though it’s only the size of a sesame seed,” said Risa Pesapane, assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at The Ohio State University’s school of environment and natural resources. “The female Asian Longhorned tick has the ability to reproduce without males. She can produce up to 2,000 eggs by herself. And one is all it takes to become established in a new habitat. These ticks can travel on wildlife, including deer and birds. While they can feed on humans, it’s not their preference.”
On July 30, the Ohio State Veterinarians Office was notified that the tick was detected in beef herds in Jackson (south central) and Monroe (eastern) counties. Heavy infestations have led to some cattle deaths. This is significant as it marks the first known cattle infestation in Ohio. In July 2020, the Ohio Department of Agriculture was informed that this tick was identified on a dog from Gallia County, in the southeastern portion of Ohio.
Cattle attacked by this tick is at risk of contracting Theileria, a blood-borne parasite that can be fatal. The Asian Longhorned tick has also affected 15 other mammal species including sheep, goats, dogs, cats, horses, elk, deer, opossums, raccoons and foxes.
Researchers are looking at a well-established population of Asian Longhorned ticks in Virginia where there was an outbreak earlier this year. According to the USDA, the two cases in Virginia and Ohio are likely linked. There have been no documented cases of humans catching diseases from this variety of tick.
Pesapane said that laboratory studies have demonstrated that this tick can acquire and transmit Rickettsia, and that can lead to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a bacterial disease that can cause fevers and a severe rash in humans.
This invasion by the Asian Longhorned tick began in 2017 and was found for the first time in the United States in New Jersey. Since then, it has moved across several mid-Atlantic states into West Virginia and now Ohio. As of July 2021, the Asian Longhorned tick has been recorded in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia as well.
Pesapane and other experts said people shouldn’t be afraid of this relatively new tick. Producers should keep a good eye on their farm animals and check for ticks on themselves when they’ve been out in the environment and do a quick tick removal. Pesapane suggested keeping grass cut and brush removed to keep ticks at bay.
“These new ticks are the size of a period at the end of a sentence when they’re born and move quickly, similar to spiders,” she said. “The tick population will likely increase due to symptoms of climate change as the warming climate allows habitats to be more suitable for these ticks, and the winters aren’t as harsh. You have more calendar days of the year that are above 40 degrees when the ticks are out looking for hosts.”
Tim McDermott, an OSU extension educator, wants to bust two tick myths.
“The first one is that you should only look for ticks in the summer,” he said. “While it’s true that they are less active in the cold weather, they can still be out any time of the year. The second myth is that if you avoid the woods you will avoid ticks. This is false. Ticks are now showing up at beaches. They do like certain places but can be found in the grass and the woods.”
Cattle producers in Ohio who spot unusual looking ticks or large infestations are asked to notify their local veterinarian or contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health at 614-728-6220. In Indiana, call the Indiana State Board of Animal Health at 317-544-2400. In Tennessee, call 615-837-5120. In Kentucky, call 502-564-3956.