NEW HAVEN, CT (WFSB) – The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station reported populations of the Gulf Coast tick in Fairfield County, and noted its potential to further spread in Connecticut and transmit diseases to both people and pets.
According to Dr. Goudarz Molaei, a research scientist who also directs the CAES Tick Surveillance and Testing Program, its is the first report of populations of the Gulf Coast tick, Amblyomma maculatum, in the northeastern United States.
Considering the role of this species in transmission of pathogens of medical and veterinary importance, the finding highlights ongoing challenges associated with range expansion of tick species into Connecticut, a state already with pervasive populations of blacklegged ticks and established populations of lone star ticks.
The Gulf Coast tick is small-to-medium sized, body 3-7 mm long and 2-4 mm wide. It is distributed throughout Central and South American countries bordering the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. In the United States, its distribution was originally limited to the southeastern states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and the south Atlantic states. However, in recent decades, its range has expanded northward into the mid-Atlantic states with new populations reported from Delaware and Maryland.
The Gulf Coast tick is a three-host tick because each active life stage feeds on a different host. Larvae and nymphs feed on birds and small rodents and rabbits, while adults primarily feed on larger mammals including white-tailed deer, dogs, coyotes, skunks, and bears. They will also readily feed on humans. Gulf Coast ticks are involved in transmission of several pathogens of veterinary and medical importance, including Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis, a form of spotted fever, to humans, and Hepatozoon americanum, the causative agent of American canine hepatozoonosis, to dogs.
“Rising global temperatures, ecologic changes, reforestation, and increases in commerce and travel are important underlying factors influencing the rate and extent of range expansion of ticks and associated pathogens. It is anticipated that warming temperatures related to climate change may lead to the continued range expansion and abundance of several tick species, increasing their importance as emerging threats to humans, domesticated animals and wildlife” said Dr. Molaei. Dr. Jason C. White, director of the CAES. “This important finding highlights the critical nature of the experiment station’s comprehensive vector-borne disease surveillance programs to the public health of our state.”
Depending upon the annual weather condition in different geographic locations, coastal populations of the Gulf Coast ticks are active from May through March, whereas inland populations are active from February through October. In some southern states, adult activity peaks in August, followed by larvae in December and nymphs in January. In other locations, adult activity peaks in April, followed by larvae in June and nymphs in July.
It is important that the public and practitioners develop a heightened awareness of the health risks associated with emergent tick vectors and their potential for changing the dynamics of tickborne diseases in Connecticut and throughout the northeastern United States.
More information on the Gulf Coast tick can be found here, on the University of Florida's website.