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Agriculture & Natural Resources Updates for Fannin & Gilmer Counties

Last month, a dangerous and invasive pest, the Asian longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis), was positively identified in North Georgia. First discovered on a sheep in New Jersey in 2017, the Asian longhorned tick has now spread to 17 states in only four years. Now that it is in Georgia, UGA Extension encourages livestock producers and the public to be on the lookout, as this species of tick is particularly dangerous due to its prolific reproductive cycle.

The Asian longhorned tick has been confirmed in Pickens County, marking the first Georgia case of the invasive tick. (Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control)

Dr. Nancy Hinkle, UGA Extension Entomology Specialist and veterinary entomologist for the state, confirmed the tick was discovered latched onto a cow on a cattle farm in Pickens County. This discovery is critically important for North Georgia cattle farmers because this marks the first Georgia case of this invasive tick. Capable of reproducing by the hundreds, the Asian longhorned tick can kill an animal by attaching to a host by the hundreds.

One of the reasons the tick spreads so quickly is due to how this species reproduces. In most animal populations, half the eggs are males, which means they cannot contribute to the next generation; however, female Asian longhorned ticks are “parthenogenetic”, meaning they do not require a male to reproduce. A female is capable of laying 2,000 viable eggs per patch. This reproductive cycle enables this species to reproduce at an exponential rate and establish new populations wherever they happen to end up. For example, if a female Asian longhorned tick is on a bird that is migrating south for the winter, and the tick drops off in South Georgia, then she can lay a batch of approximately 2,000 eggs, and subsequently start a whole new tick population all by herself.

Asian longhorned ticks can infest an animal host by the hundreds, causing illness and even death. (Photo by Joe Deal, NC State Extension)

Given the close proximity of the tick’s discovery to Gilmer and other North Georgia counties, livestock producers and homeowners in the region need to be on high alert, as it is possible that the tick is already well-established in surrounding wildlife communities, as well as in other counties in Georgia. Dr. Hinkle has emphasized that the most significant impact will likely be on cattle, which is one of the tick’s preferred hosts. Dr. Hinkle also stressed that because this tick can transmit a significant cattle disease, theileriosis, it potentially poses a serious threat to cattle economics through production losses and control costs.

These ticks also transmit the virus that causes severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome in humans. Here in North America, researchers demonstrated that this tick could transmit Theileria orientalis Ikeda strain in cattle. There is also some indication they may produce tick bite-induced red meat allergy, according to Dr. Hinkle.

So, how do you know if your animal has an Asian longhorned tick? Generally, if a cow has one or two ticks, the species is more than likely the commonly seen Lonestar tick; however, if a cow shows up with hundreds of ticks on it, then that is cause to suspect Asian longhorned ticks, as they tend to attach to a preferred host by the hundreds.

Pet owners need to be aware of this new tick and should be conscientious about killing any ticks found on their pets or themselves. “Even a partially fed tick, if pulled off the animal and thrown to the ground, can crawl off and lay over 1,000 eggs. We encourage you to put all ticks in a small bottle of alcohol to ensure they die,” Hinkle urged.

Aside from the bad, UGA Extension and Dr. Hinkle also want to communicate the good news for cattle producers, which is that tick control products recommended and registered for tick control use on cattle will be effective against Asian longhorned ticks. Products registered for tick control on cats and dogs should also be effective against the Asian longhorned tick.

The bottom line is a new tick is in the area and everyone needs to be vigilant in checking themselves and family members for ticks after spending time outdoors. Continuing to monitor and track the spread of this invasive species is important, so all Georgians are encouraged to keep an eye on their animals, whether they be livestock, horses, backyard poultry or pets. Again, if you find an animal with a large number of ticks or an unusual tick infestation, call the Georgia Department of Agriculture Animal Health Section at 404-656-3667. You can also report your concerns to your local county Extension office.

The tiny Asian longhorned tick (left) compared to the common Lonestar tick. (Photo by Graham Hickling, UT Institute of Agriculture)
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