Be prepared! New ticks are moving north, but scientists offer hope

A bush tick, or long-horned tick, lies under a microscope.
A bush tick, or long-horned tick, lies under a microscope.
Atlas of Life

Minnesotans might start seeing a new kind of tick in their neck of the woods over the next few years, experts say.

While not yet in Minnesota, the bush tick, native to Eastern Asia, was found feeding on sheep in New Jersey in 2017.

And if climate trends continue, rising temperatures and shorter winters mean ticks, and the diseases they carry, will keep expanding their ranges faster than ever, said Uli Munderloh, an entomology professor at the University of Minnesota.

"We do not know all of the disease agents that ticks may be able to transmit," she said. Disease agents can include a virus, bacteria or fungus. "If there's a new tick moving like the bush tick, it could pick up disease agents that are already present and spread by the deer tick."

And that works in reverse too. Deer ticks could potentially spread the new diseases that bush ticks would bring into the region.

A bush tick, or long-horned tick after a blood meal.
A bush tick, or long-horned tick, sits after a blood meal.
Wikimedia Commons

"This has the potential to be both a big problem for cattle ranchers and also for people themselves because it will transmit disease to cattle, as well as disease to people," Munderloh said. "It feeds pretty much on any animal, including reptiles, small animals, large animals."

Not only is the bush tick indiscriminate, the tick can reproduce asexually, which means female ticks do not need male ticks to reproduce.

"It may not be hearty enough to establish itself in Minnesota, but it can already withstand temperatures going to like minus 20 degrees Celsius [-4 F], which is pretty cold," Munderloh said.

The goal of Munderloh's research is to eventually find ways of fending off a variety of tick-borne diseases, which could be the key to controlling their spread.

In the meantime, Munderloh said that being "tick aware" is key. Awareness includes regular tick checks while you're outside, followed by a hot shower and washing your clothes when you get home from an area where you know ticks are present.

A step-by-step guide to after tick removal care.
A step-by-step guide to after tick removal care according to University of Minnesota entomology professor Uli Munderloh.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Munderloh said it's important to stay vigilant, whether you're guarding against familiar tick species or new ones like the bush tick.

"It feeds on anything, and that will make it very difficult to eradicate," Munderloh said. "I'm sure it's here to stay and people must be very careful."

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