Down here in the deep south we are all fairly familiar with the many ticks that seem to be everywhere. Most people can identify a dog tick or a lonestar tick with no issues. Unfortunately for Georgians, there’s a new, deadlier tick in town: the asian longhorn tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis). This tick is invasive to the United States and Australia by way of southeast asia. The way this invasive pest lives, reproduces and the diseases it carries are all reasons for major concern.
I would not be a very good entomologist is if I did not start out by saying that ticks, including this one, are not insects. Ticks fall under the class of Arachnida, the same as spiders. Arachnids differ from insects in many ways but the main two are they have 8 legs instead of 6, and only have 2 body segments, instead of 3. Similar to some insects though, they do parasitize other animals to sustain their selves. The bloodmeals they uptakes feed them , but also causes them to detach to find new host. That means each longhorn tick will have 3 host in its lifetime, one for the larvae, nymph and adult stages.
There are several factors that separate these ticks from other parasites and ticks, but their reproduction is by far the most important. Asian longhorn ticks can reproduce without every mating. The females can lay eggs through process known as parthenogenetic reproduction. This means that females can lay eggs that that are genetic clones of themselves without ever meeting a male. This is how huge infestations have occurred all around the world. What’s worse is that these clones can feed, reproduce and carry disease just like any other tick.
These ticks carry an array of disease that can hurt both humans and livestock, as well as companion animals. Lab testing on adult asian longhorn ticks has shown the positive transmission of both rocky mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. These pests also carry a variant of the Theileria orientalis, abloodborne parasite that causes anemia in cattle. In combination with this parasite, the ticks can multiply rapidly and have been found in clusters of ~1,000 individuals leading to severe blood loss and death. There is a possibility for dozens more disease to be transmitted that we have yet to have research on yet.
The asian longhorn tick is a new pest to Georgia and the United States. Since its arrival in 2010, it has made its way across the northeast and now the southeast. If you notice a strange tick on your animals, bring it by the extension office. These ticks have only been found in north Georgia so far, but it is only a matter of time until they reach our county. Stay safe out there.