May 9, 2018

Tenacious Tick Survives Winter At Hunterdon County Farm

By Anne Levin

It was a long, cold winter, but we survived. So did an exotic tick species from Asia that was found last fall on a Hunterdon County farm.

No one knows for sure how the longhorned tick, also known as bush tick, made it from East Asia to the United States when it was found at the farm last November. The National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) recently announced that this species — never seen in this country before — had “overwintered and has possibly become established in the state.”

“Now we need to treat the area to try to get rid of them,” said Manuel Tamassia, director and state veterinarian with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The good news, he added, is that the animal tested did not have any of the diseases normally caused by ticks.

“We did test the ticks at the farm and also the sheep, and they came out clear for the common tick-borne diseases,” Tamassia said. “So there is a little silver lining there.”

It was last summer that a caretaker who had been shearing sheep at a Hunterdon County farm showed up at the county health office covered in ticks. The state agriculture department confirmed that the ticks were an exotic species never seen here before.

“There are two types of this tick that exist in Southeast Asia or what we call Australasia,” said Tamassia. “One survives the cold winters, and one does not. One thing that is unique about these ticks is that they reproduce by parthenogenesis, meaning they don’t need a male.”

The state agriculture department is working with local and federal animal health and wildlife officials, as well as Rutgers University’s Center for Vector Biology, on this issue. “That’s because we are concerned that this tick could jump on an animal and be transported away from here,” said Tamassia.

State and federal employees will be working with the public to determine whether the tick has moved to new areas and to educate the public about protecting pets and livestock. Like deer ticks, the insects look like tiny spiders and can easily go unnoticed on animals and people. The tick is known to infest deer and other animals, making it possible that it can infect multiple North American wildlife species, according to the NVSL.

“Identification might be difficult. If anybody finds a tick and they are suspicious of it, they should take it to their local department of health,” said Tamassia. “We will be putting up more information on our website as it becomes available.”

That site is