State health and agriculture officials are urging the public to be vigilant in checking humans and animals for ticks after a new invasive species was found in Centre County.
The species, initially found by the Game Commission on a male white tailed deer in Potter Township, was submitted for testing and positively identified as an Asian, or longhorn, tick, the state announced Tuesday.
“The discovery of the longhorn tick is another reminder of the importance of tick prevention for Pennsylvanians,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a release. “Ticks can be found in your own backyard, so it is essential to wear long sleeves and pants, use insect repellant containing DEET to help keep you safe from ticks and the diseases they carry. It is also important to check yourself and your pets for ticks, as pets can bring ticks indoors.”
The longhorn tick was first discovered in the United States in Mercer County, New Jersey, in November. But Penn State assistant professor of entomology Erika Machtinger said research from Rutgers University indicates the species could have been in the country as far back as 2013.
“It has likely traveled quite far in the U.S. and probably has more of a presence in the country than we think, but we’re just now finding it,” she said.
Because the tick, identified in Virginia, West Virginia, New York and Arkansas, survived the New Jersey winter, it is officially established as an invasive species.
In its native range, Machtinger said the longhorn tick is known to carry a wealth of different pathogens that have affected livestock. However, how it will interact with pathogens native to the U.S. is yet to be seen.
So far, no longhorn ticks examined in the U.S. have been found to carry infectious pathogens, according to the state.
The species is known to infest host animals — such as cattle, pets, small mammals, birds and humans — in clusters and can cause anemia in livestock. All longhorn ticks are female and reproduce asexually, meaning a single tick can reproduce and lay 2,000 eggs after feeding on a host, according to the Department of Agriculture.
The best way to prevent the tick’s spread, according to Machtinger and state veterinarian Dr. David Wolfgang, is through regularly checking pets and livestock, and reducing the tick’s habitat near animals.
“Take careful look at your animals,” Machtinger said. “If you have cattle, sheep, goats, make sure you’re putting your hands on them and looking for insect infestation. And look for ways you might be able to protect your property by either modifying your fencing or pastures away from forest habitats to try to prevent infestation before it happens.”
Wolfgang also recommended maintaining a 9-foot distance between lawn or pasture and wooded areas, keeping grass height low and removing weeds and brush from bordering wooded areas.
As its “horns” may not be visible without a microscope and it’s otherwise pretty nondescript, the longhorn tick is often mistaken for other tick species, including the common rabbit and bird ticks.
“This particular tick is a bit rounder than your black-legged tick and it has uniformed coloration across its entire body, whereas some of our other ticks have what we call ornamentation,” Machtinger said. “This tick is all one color, sort of a reddish-brown, and even difficult for people who study ticks to immediately be able to tell the difference, especially if it’s on an animal and engorged, or a small or younger-life-stage juvenile.”
Machtinger said the best thing for someone who thinks they’ve identified a longhorn tick to do is send the specimen off for identification.
Veterinarians can send a sample to the Penn Vet Diagnostics Laboratories at 3900 Delancey St. in Philadelphia, and other Pennsylvania residents can send specimens to Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab at 501 Agricultural Science and Industries Building, University Park.