PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today announced that the longhorned tick, an exotic pest from Asia, has been found for the first time in New England. Working in cooperation with the Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), DEM is asking livestock producers and wildlife rehabilitators to observe animals for the presence of the tick.
The longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) poses a risk to New England livestock because it can attach itself to various warm-blooded animals to feed. If too many ticks attach to one animal, the loss of blood can kill the animal. The ticks also can affect wildlife, hunters, and their dogs, and spread a variety of diseases. Dark brown in color, the adult longhorned tick grows to the size of a pea when it is engorged with blood. The other life stages of the tick, such as larva and nymph, are very small and difficult to see with the naked eye.
“Along with federal and regional animal health officials, DEM wishes to alert the public of the presence of this destructive tick so that new cases can be quickly identified,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “Although the longhorned tick is not easily recognized by sight, its behavior is unusual and noticeable. If livestock owners observe a heavy infestation of ticks on their animals, it could indicate the presence of this exotic pest, and it’s important for them to contact the Rhode Island State Veterinarian for guidance.”
The longhorned tick was detected in Connecticut this fall, marking the first finding of the pest in New England. It also has been confirmed in Arkansas, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The longhorned tick is considered a serious threat to livestock in Australia, New Zealand, and countries of eastern Asia.
In late 2017, animal health experts identified a longhorned tick on a sheep in Hunterdon County, a western New Jersey county bordering Pennsylvania about 35 miles from Trenton. After this finding, officials began examining how and when the tick arrived in the United States. They reexamined tick samples from past years and confirmed a longhorned tick from a sample collected in West Virginia in 2010. Authorities still are investigating exactly how the longhorned tick entered the country. Possible scenarios include being carried by domestic pets (dogs), horses, livestock, or humans.
If a suspected longhorned tick is found on persons, pets, horses, livestock, or hunter-harvested deer, the public is asked to collect the tick for animal health officials to identify, as follows:
• Place the tick in a snack or sandwich-size Ziploc® baggie along with a small stamp-size piece of moistened tissue paper and seal it. Do not use tape to secure the tick.
• Call the RI State Veterinarian’s Office in DEM’s Division of Agriculture at 401-222-2781 or the New England USDA APHIS Veterinary Services office at 508-363-2290. If individuals find a tick that they know to be a type commonly found in New England, there is no need to submit it for further identification.
Tick-borne diseases, including those from ticks native to New England, also pose a hazard to hunters and their dogs. In addition to the risk of having the tick attach, hunters transport the tick from one location to another as they walk through wooded areas, grasses, and shrubs. To prevent the transfer of ticks to new sites, DEM recommends that hunters:
• Apply tick repellents to exposed skin and clothing.
• Spray permethrin-containing products on outer clothing, including shoes. Permethrin should not be used directly on skin.
• Check clothing and exposed skin prior to moving from one area to another. If ticks are found, they may be submitted for identification.
• Wear light colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
• Conduct body checks immediately after returning from outdoor activities in tick-infested areas. If ticks are found, remove them by using fine-tipped tweezers, wash the affected area with soap and water, and disinfect the bite site.
To protect hunting dogs, hunters should check with their veterinarian about an appropriate topical or systemic tick-control treatment for their dog. Any ticks attached to dogs should be promptly and carefully removed following the same guidelines for tick removal from human skin.
For additional information about the longhorned tick in the United States, visit: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_health/fs-longhorned-tick.pdf. For information on tick-borne diseases, visit http://health.ri.gov/ticks/.