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'Longhorned' tick found in New York, growing number of states

No one had ever heard of the species until it emerged in China about nine years ago. There, it is the carrier of a life-threatening virus.

The longhorned tick -- from left, a fully

The longhorned tick -- from left, a fully engorged female, a partially engorged female, and an engorged nymph -- has been found in Westchester County, state health officials said. Photo Credit: AP / Jim Occi

A newly discovered species of tick, dubbed the “longhorned,” is an unusual bug dominated by females that swarm their victims in such massive numbers that bitten farm animals either can become anemic or die.

The bloodthirsty creature has not yet been found on Long Island, but is on the region’s doorstep — having been identified in multiple Westchester County sites, officials at the New York State Department of Health said.

“We haven’t found it here yet, even with all the surveillance we do here in Suffolk,” said Scott Campbell, chief of the Suffolk County Department of Health’s Arthropod Disease Laboratory in Yaphank.

He and other experts are maintaining their vigilance because the tick may make its Long Island debut unexpectedly, he said.

“They feed on birds and may arrive here with migratory flocks,” Campbell said of a method that has likely helped spread the bug throughout the Eastern Seaboard.

So far, there is no evidence that it is a carrier of a disease-causing organism that can be transmitted to people or pets.

We will continue to conduct surveillance and research on this new type of tick, but it is encouraging that the same steps that protect against deer ticks are also effective against the longhorned tick,” state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a statement.

The deer tick, a widespread menace on the Island, also is known as the black-legged tick. It is a prolific vector capable of carrying a wide variety of different kinds of microbes — bacteria, viruses and a malaria-like parasite. The deer tick is best known as the carrier of the Lyme disease bacterium.

New York residents are being urged to take the same precautions to protect themselves against the longhorned tick as they would to guard against deer ticks.

No one had ever heard of the pesky longhorned tick until it emerged in China about nine years ago. There, it is the carrier of a life-threatening virus. The creature's scientific name is Haemaphysalis longicornis. It is also called the East Asian tick.

How it arrived in this country — thousands of miles and multiple time zones from China — remains a mystery, scientists have asserted, but they speculate it likely may have come as part of the sweeping global movement of humans and the transport of animals that are farmed for their meat.

The longhorned tick not only is new to the United States, having arrived last summer in New Jersey, it is new science. It has been detected as far away as Texas.

It reproduces through a biological process known as parthenogenesis in which the offspring are identical clones of the mother. Females produce vast clusters of eggs from which more females hatch, Campbell said.

“This is the only tick that I know of that reproduces through parthenogenesis. Very few males have been found in the states where the tick is located,” Campbell said.

Livestock have been the tick’s primary victims. Masses of the bugs attack in what some farmers call swarms, a blood lust that either causes anemia due to blood loss or kills the animals altogether. Although some use the word swarm, ticks do not fly. They crawl on their hosts and find a spot to bite.

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