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The Mast-Head: A New Tick in Town

Thu, 11/30/2023 - 09:49

Hey, did you hear? There is a new tick in town. Yes, the Asian longhorned tick, which apparently arrived in the United States by hitching a ride on a New Zealand sheep in 2017, has been found on Long Island. 

Since first being detected, the longhorn — not to be confused with the similarly named Asian beetle that has devoured the pitch pines — has spread from Georgia to Massachusetts and as far west as Missouri. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Haemaphysalis longicornis has been found on pets, livestock, wildlife, and people. But unlike its uncannily gymnastic relative, the lone star tick, this new menace may be somewhat less attracted to human skin. 

Asian longhorns possess a disturbingly effective trick when it comes to making babies: The female ticks can lay eggs and reproduce without mating. Males, when they are around, just add a bit of variation to the gene pool.

It is good news that longhorns do not appear to spread Lyme disease. Less exciting is that they are reservoirs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which was about the only tick-borne disease we used to worry about on the East End. Like almost every other illness, Rocky Mountain begins with a fever, headache, and a spotty rash as the bacteria take hold in the body. Patients can also have nausea or loss of appetite, muscle pain, and swelling around the eyes and on the back of hands.

Quick treatment by a doctor is necessary — you don't even want to know what late-stage Rocky Mountain fever can do to a body. 

I had hoped to end this week's "Mast-Head" on a happy note, but that hope faded after I saw a map put out by the Entomological Society of America that depicted the chance of Asian longhorn ticks becoming common on Long Island as moderate to high. Well, at least tick-checks can be fun.

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