A new species of ticks was recently found just over the state line in Westchester County, N.Y., and there’s a chance it could have made its way to Connecticut, posing a threat to the state’s livestock.
The “longhorned tick” is native to east Asia and was discovered in New Jersey last year when a large concentration was found on a sheep. This year it has also been confirmed in more areas in New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Arkansas.
“It is possible the tick has been here for some time, but it wasn’t until there was a large population detected in New Jersey that we noticed,” said Neeta Pardanani Connally, who leads Western Connecticut State University’s Tickborne Disease Prevention Laboratory. “It’s very possible we find these ticks in a lot of places, now that we are looking more closely.”
There are no confirmed cases so far of the longhorned tick — also called the cattle tick or bush tick — in Connecticut, said Kirby Stafford, the state entomologist and chief entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. He said he wouldn’t be surprised though if there were some already in the state.
“It’s knocking on our door,” he said.
Connally is investigating whether two immature ticks collected in northern Fairfield County over the last couple of years could be the new invasive or the native rabbit tick. This tick also closely resembles the native bird tick. All come from the same group, which tends to be smaller than the common human-biting ticks found here, such as deer ticks and American dog ticks.
“It takes an expert to identity them,” Stafford said of the rabbit, bird and longhorned ticks.
The longhorned tick is believed to have arrived in the U.S. in 2010, though scientists are unsure exactly where and how it arrived. It’s believed to have been imported on an animal.
Right now, the tick poses a greater threat to animals than humans in the U.S.
If a large amount of ticks attach to an animal, they can drain too much blood and kill it, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The tick has the ability to produce large populations rather quickly because the female tick is able to reproduce without a male mate, called parthenogenesis. A female tick is able to engorge and lay about 1,000 eggs at a time, Stafford said.
He said it remains a livestock pest, but didn’t rule out a possible risk to people.
The tick is capable of transmitting diseases to humans because the tick feeds on both birds and mammals. In China, the tick carries severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus, an emerging infectious disease with a 12 percent mortality rate.
So far, the ticks found in the U.S. haven’t carried this virus.
Stafford said there’s a good chance the virus won’t come to the U.S. with the ticks. The illness has still not appeared in New Zealand and Australia, though the tick was imported there more than 100 years ago.
But there is still the potential that the tick can pass along tick-borne diseases already here, such as Lyme.
“However, it is yet still unknown if the longhorned tick is capable of transmitting other disease agents to humans here in the U.S.,” Connally cautioned.