June 14, 2018

Summer Bugs Aren’t All Bad (But These Sure Are)

By Julie Depenbrock

Let’s begin with the scariest: the Longhorned tick.

Easily mistaken for a spider, this particular pest — spreading quickly through the Mid-Atlantic — can carry a potentially fatal virus. Also known as the East Asian, bush, or cattle tick, the Longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) has been spotted already in West Virginia, New Jersey, Virginia, and Arkansas. Though no sightings have been confirmed yet in Maryland or D.C., local entomology experts, along with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, are warning residents to watch out for the parasite.

“We’re in the bullseye,” says Michael Raupp, a Professor of Entomology at the University of Maryland.

The Longhorned tick seems to prefer livestock to humans, but can carry the deadly virus known as SFTS — Severe Fever with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome — and it has scientists scrambling.

“The mortality rate from Lyme disease is fairly low because we have antibiotics,” Raupp said. “But, with this one, because it’s a virus, you simply won’t be able to treat this with antibiotics.”

And mortality rates can be high. Raupp said he has read reports as high as 47 percent.

The tick has also caused stunted production and death in livestock, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

A Longhorned tick. PHOTO COURTESY OF JIM OCCI

On the Kojo Nnamdi Show Thursday, Raupp called the Longhorned tick “both dastardly and fantastic.” The female ticks have the ability to reproduce asexually (without the help of a male), allowing them to spread more quickly.

Just one new invasive species would be more than enough, but Raupp warns there’s another coming: the spotted lanternfly.

It’s shown up on farms in Pennsylvania, but has yet to reach our area. They aren’t directly harmful to humans, but they have voracious appetites for plants, and can quickly destroy entire fields of crops –and they reproduce quickly.

They’re not here yet, says Raupp, but like the Longhorned tick, they’re on the way.

And if those two bugs don’t give you enough to worry about, don’t forget the ones that are already here — especially deer ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), which can carry West Nile Virus.

Enjoy your summer.

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