Invasive Tick Can Clone Itself, and It's Spreading Quickly

Asian longhorned tick has spread to 19 states, poses a threat to livestock
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 3, 2023 3:15 PM CST
Invasive Tick Can Clone Itself, and It's Spreading Quickly
This photo provided by Rutgers University shows three Longhorned ticks: from left, a fully engorged female, a partial engorged female, and an engorged nymph.   (Jim Occi/Rutgers University via AP)

An invasive tick species is making its way across the US from the east, with particularly worrisome news coming from one of the 19 states where it's been spotted, reports Smithsonian Magazine. After researchers confirmed the Asian longhorned tick killed three cows in Ohio, there's growing concern over how its spread will affect livestock. Native to parts of China, Japan, Russian, and Korea, the ticks were first found stateside in New Jersey in 2017. They've quickly traveled across the east, through the south, and as far west as Missouri and Arkansas. Research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology says a mass number of ticks infesting the cows were able to drain them entirely of blood. But put that hair-raising exsanguination fact aside for just a moment.

What makes these ticks unique is their ability to clone. Females can lay up to 2,000 fertilized eggs without a mate. "There are no other ticks in North America that do that. So they can just march on, with exponential growth, without any limitation of having to find a mate," says Ohio State University disease ecology researcher Risa Pesapane, an author on the paper, in a news release. "Where the habitat is ideal, and anecdotally it seems that unmowed pastures are an ideal location, there's little stopping them from generating these huge numbers." Their asexual reproduction allows the ticks to take over an area quickly. When Pesapane visited the Ohio farm with a team, they collected over 9,000 ticks with lint rollers and muslin cloths in just 90 minutes.

While some measures can be taken to lower populations early in the season, before adults lay eggs, the ticks can easily hide from pesticides. "They are going to be a long-term management problem," Pesapane said, per the Washington Post. "There is no getting rid of them." More information is needed to understand the most affective management strategies, and how they will affect humans. So far, the ticks do not seem to carry Lyme disease, but they can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Heartland virus, and Powassan virus. (Many cases of alpha-gal syndrome, a tick-borne meat allergy, go undiagnosed).

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