While it may not be the news that anyone who enjoys the outdoors wants to hear, Michele Cassetori knew it was coming.
When the Pennsylvania Game Commission discovered a longhorned tick on a deer in Centre County last month, Cassetori, who is the director of education and outreach with the PA Lyme Resource Network, had a hunch it was going to happen after the pest appeared in New Jersey last year.
“I wasn’t shocked. I suspect it was in our state well before they found it officially,” she said.
Also known as the “cattle tick,” the longhorned tick is native to Southeast Asia and it’s not known how or when it arrived in North America. Since it was detected on a sheep in New Jersey in 2017, the tick has shown up in Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Arkansas, North Carolina and now Pennsylvania.
So does the recent finding mean there’s another tick, in addition to the deer tick, that can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease?
The verdict is still out.
According to Cassetori, in the United States there hasn’t been any positive Lyme tests for longhorned ticks, yet. But she said in Southeast Asia the tick has tested positive for Lyme and other diseases, some of which can be quite serious.
“There’s certainly a risk factor when you know these ticks carry other diseases in Southeast Asia,” Cassetori said.
And there’s reason to believe that the longhorned tick is here to stay and the population could grow.
Larry Corpus, Ph.D, assistant biology professor at Misericordia University, said the longhorned tick is different from the deer and dog tick in that it can reproduce without a mate. Through asexual reproduction, Corpus said, a female longhorned tick can produce female larvae, similar to the reproduction of aphids.
“It’s a biological feature that means the male and female don’t have to find each other to produce a population. It can spread easier,” he said. “They’re likely established here.”
And there’s more.
Most ticks spend the winter burrowed under leaf litter, which makes them susceptible to extreme cold. A severe winter can kill most species of ticks and possibly cause downturns in the population, but the longhorned tick is different.
Corpus said rather than spend the winter under leaves, the longhorned tick burrows into the soil, giving itself added protection from the cold.
“This tick has the potential to explode exponentially,” Cassetori said.
While the longhorned tick has turned up on just one deer in the state so far, the Game Commission will continue to conduct active surveillance.
Dr. Justin Brown, agency wildlife veterinarian, said the PGC has distributed sampling packs to personnel to collect ticks from deer that are found dead, such as roadkills. In addition, the Game Commission will also sample other wild mammals and opportunities arise. The samples will be sent to Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia for identification followed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory for confirmation.
On the plus side, Cassetori said there’s no indication that the longhorned tick is resistant to preventative sprays, such as DEET and permethrin, that are used to protect against other tick species.
“The news of this tick appearing here is a reminder of how important it is to practice prevention,” she said. “Ticks aren’t going anywhere and we need to continue to protect ourselves.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky