LMU Researchers Find Exotic Tick in Claiborne County, Tennessee
In summer 2020, collaborative research by Dr. Vina Faulkner, associate professor of veterinary sciences at Lincoln Memorial University-College of Veterinary Medicine (LMU-CVM), and Dr. Barbara Shock, assistant professor of biology and conservation biology at LMU’s School of Mathematics and Sciences, yielded the discovery of 10 Asian longhorned ticks (Haemaphysalis longicornis) in Harrogate and Speedwell, Tennessee.
Although first identified in 2017, subsequent data has found that this tick, native to East Asia, has been in the US since at least 2010. LMU’s findings suggest that H. longicornis are established in Claiborne County, Tennessee, and increasingly abundant in the Cumberland Gap region. The Asian longhorned tick has become invasive in the US and uses birds and mammals as hosts. It likely arrived in the Cumberland Gap region via spread from domestic dogs, or wildlife from adjacent areas in Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Since 2016, Faulkner and Shock have been researching the Ixodid tick (hard tick) natural history and tick-transmitted diseases of the Cumberland Gap area. Collaborators and student researchers have collected thousands of ticks over the past five years from the Cumberland Gap region, however, this year is the first finding of a Haemaphysalis longicornis since the project began. Multiple research groups are working to identify any pathogens the invasive tick may vector to animals and humans in the US.
“Although we expected to find Haemaphysalis longicornis in 2020, it is still surprising to observe how quickly it spread across the landscape,” Shock said. “It was first found on a Claiborne County shelter dog in 2019. This finding highlights the importance of collaborative research on ticks and tick-transmitted diseases in the Cumberland Gap region.”
Ashley Taschner, a third-year veterinary student, and Matthew Tichy, a second-year veterinary student, worked on an LMU-CVM-funded intramural research project over the summer of 2020. They dragged and flagged for questing ticks from May through August and identified ticks submitted by community members in the Cumberland Gap region. Nine Haemaphysalis nymphs were collected from April to July 2020 (six in June) and one adult was collected in August 2020. The exotic species was confirmed using morphology and molecular techniques by collaborators at the University of Georgia (UGA), including Alec Thompson, a PhD candidate, and Dr. Michael Yabsley, a professor at both UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Faulkner, Shock and their students will continue researching as well as further developing their collaboration with the University of Georgia. Taschner and Tichy, along with Matilda Tate, an LMU Veterinary Health Sciences student and LMU Biology and Conservation Biology undergraduates, are currently screening ticks for pathogens via quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), a technology used for quantifying species-specific DNA using PCR. These screenings are part of a larger project on tick-transmitted diseases.
While researchers are still determining the threat posed by the tick in the United States, the information gathered in this study is of particular interest to veterinary and public health professionals due to the tick’s rapid reproduction and ability to carry several bacterial, protozoal and viral diseases in their native range including, but not limited to, the parasite Theileria orientalis – which caused a 2017 mortality of beef cattle in Virginia.
“Our research encompasses the One Health approach by monitoring the environment for ticks and identifying the potential risk for tick-borne diseases to occur among people and animals,” Faulkner said.
Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The LMU-College of Veterinary Medicine is located on LMU’s main campus in Harrogate, Tennessee, with additional academic facilities in nearby Lee County, Virginia. LMU-CVM is an integral part of the University’s medical programs and provides real-world, community-based education in a collaborative learning environment. For more information about LMU-CVM, call 1.800.325.0900, ext. 7150 or visit us online at vetmed.LMUnet.edu.