An invasive species of tick from the Far East was discovered on Nantucket for the first time last month.
The Asian longhorned tick, which was first detected in the United States in 2017, has made its way to the island. The discovery was made by Dr. Sam Telford, a professor with Tufts University’s Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health.
The bad news? The Asian longhorned tick can quickly establish itself once it is introduced to an area as female ticks are able to lay eggs and reproduce without mating.
The good news? The Asian longhorned tick is less attracted to human skin than other ticks, and is not likely to contribute to the spread of Lyme disease. Telford said Asian longhorned ticks pose far less risk to the island’s human population than the more common deer tick or the lone star tick, which was also recently detected on Nantucket.
Telford, who has been studying ticks and tick-borne diseases on Nantucket for more than 40 years alongside local tick expert Dr. Tim Lepore, said he found more than 100 Asian longhorned ticks at four sites around the island last month.
“It’s not a fluke,” Telford told the Current on Tuesday at the Umass Field Station on Nantucket, one of the sites where he found the Asian longhorned tick. “This tick is odd, it doesn't require a male to lay eggs. A lot of invertebrates do that but it’s unusual for a tick.”
Telford called it an “invasive tick,” meaning that it has only recently been introduced to Nantucket and the United States from places like Japan, Korea, and China.
“How it got here? It beats the heck out of all of us,” Telford said. “And how it got to Nantucket? There’s only two ways: one is by birds and the second is that I strongly suspect people and their dogs are bringing it from elsewhere.”
The Asian longhorned ticks on Nantucket were detected at the Umass Field Station off Polpis Road, as well as the Land Bank’s Reyes Pond property, the Conservation Foundation’s Masqeutuck property, and in Squam.
Telford had a hunch that the Asian longhorned ticks would eventually make their way to the island, so he had been keeping an eye out for them during his annual visits to Nantucket. On Tuesday as he was “ticking” at the field station - essentially raking a piece of fabric over the tall grass and gathering the ticks that grabbed ahold of it - he was able to find several in a matter of minutes.
While the discovery is interesting, Telford emphasized that he was far less concerned with Asian longhorned ticks than Nantucket’s existing population of deer ticks that transmit Lyme disease and other tick-borne pathogens.
“Shame on my colleagues for trying to make this out to be the next deer tick,” Telford said. “It’s not. It doesn't bite people, it doesn’t like to bite people. It likes dogs, cattle, deer and rabbits. But it’s very rare for people to get infested. Yes, in Asia it does transmit some viruses and some protozoa. There’s a hemorrhagic fever in the virus in these ticks in China. So there’s been a lot of speculation that it’s going to cause all sorts of this and that here. The point is, we’ve had a problem here for 50 years with the deer tick. We don’t need another excuse to try to do something about ticks. Let’s deal with the problems we know exist. Don’t raise the specter of the foreign invading tick becoming a problem.”
Telford stressed that Nantucket residents should continue to take simple precautions - including spraying repellent on before going outdoors, wearing permethrin-treated socks and clothing, and conducting regular tick checks after returning indoors.
“It’s another tick, another part of our fauna,” Telford said. “It doesn’t mean you need to be afraid to go outside. Enjoy Nantucket, just take precautions.”