Ticking bombs: Don't let ticks suck up profits

Photo by Robert Fears Deer are hosts to most tick species and can spread them to cattle.

A lot of profit is sucked up by ticks when they extract blood from your cattle. In addition to blood loss, these arachnids cause irritation, poor rates of gain, weight loss, decreased body condition and diminished reproductive capacity. (Arachnids have eight legs whereas insects have six.)

Ticks also can cause economic loss by spreading protozoan, viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens which cause various diseases. Damage by ticks to hides reduces their value. Direct economic losses to cattle producers from ticks in the Southeastern United States has been estimated at more than $218 million annually.

"Ticks are classified as hard or soft," said Sonja Swiger of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. "A hard tick has a prominent plate on its back known as a scutum. This plate is hard and its color varies according to species. Mouthparts of hard ticks extend from the front of the head, and the arachnids feed only once between each stage of development: larvae, nymphs and adults."

"Hard ticks differ according to the number of hosts they use during their life cycle. A one-host tick stays on a single host, such as a cow, from egg through adult," said Pete Teel of Texas A&M AgriLife Research. "Larvae are picked up from vegetation by the host where the ticks feed for three to four weeks while maturing and molting. They molt twice, once from larvae to nymphs and again from nymphs to adults.

"As adults, they mate and the females, after a final blood meal, fall off the host animal. They then seek vegetation on which to lay eggs. After laying, females die, eggs hatch into larvae and the life cycle continues."

Swiger said, "A two-host tick completes larvae and nymph stages on a smaller host such as a rabbit and then moves to a larger host such as a cow or deer for the adult stage. After the adult female feeds, it drops from the host, lays eggs and dies."

The three-host tick completes larvae and nymph stages on a small host such as a squirrel, where it takes a blood meal. It then moves to an intermediate host such as a rabbit. The nymph feeds once on the intermediate host and then detaches. As an adult, it attaches to a large host, where it feeds once, detaches, lays its eggs and dies.

Soft ticks have no scutum and appear more rounded in shape than hard ticks. Their mouthparts are located beneath the body. Soft tick females can take multiple blood meals as adults and lay multiple batches of eggs.

Winter ticks

During this time of year, winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus) and black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) are two of the profit robbers. Winter tick is a one-host hard tick that attach to animals during late fall and winter. Heavy infestations of this tick cause blood loss that can lead to anemia or even death.

The Tick App for Texas and the Southern Region (tickapp.tamu.edu/) states that the winter tick is distributed across Central America, Mexico, the contiguous United States, Canada and Alaska. Their primary hosts are cattle, horses, mules, deer, elk and moose with infrequent attachment to dogs, feral swine and humans. Larvae typically seek hosts from October to March with activity peaking in December to January. Winter parasites place increased stress on cattle already burdened by diminishing forage quality and availability and possibly from calving.

Feeding ticks usually are found attached to all body regions among heavily infested animals, while regions such as the dewlap, udder and scrotum are where they most often attach in low to moderate infestations. All stages of the tick are found feeding on individual hosts at the same time and feeding is generally completed from 21 to 28 days. Laval groups hatched in the spring remain inactive during summer and are found at the soil/vegetation interface. Diminishing photoperiod and temperatures in the fall stimulate questing (seeking a host). Fed nymphs of the winter tick are groomed off their hosts easily which causes them to molt to adults on the ground and then seek a second host. Winter ticks can carry the pathogen that causes anaplasmosis, which may increase the economic loss.

Black-legged ticks

According to the Tick App, black-legged ticks are prevalent in the eastern half of the United States. They are a three-host tick completing their life cycle over the course of two years. In the Southeastern U.S., immature ticks become active in spring and summer while adult activity occurs from fall to spring. Larvae and nymphs feed primarily on small mammals especially rodents and birds, as well as on lizards. Adult ticks attach to a wide number of large mammals including deer, cattle, horses, feral swine and humans. Black-legged ticks exhibit little attachment site preference, but are commonly attached to regions such as the dewlap, genitals and tail-head of livestock. These ticks can transmit pathogens that cause anaplasmosis, human babesiosis, Lyme disease and Powassan encephalitis.

Lone star ticks

The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is common to the southeastern quarter of the U.S., but ranges across most of the eastern half. The Tick App states that the lone star is a three-host tick capable of producing a generation per year. These ticks attack a wide range of hosts in all three life stages. Larvae and nymphs feed on small mammals and ground-frequenting birds in addition to white-tailed deer, cattle and other large animals. Adult ticks infest deer, cattle, horses, feral swine, sheep, dogs and humans.

There are distinct seasonal activity patterns for each life stage. Adults overwinter and become active in January through February, depending on latitude. Their activity typically peaks during March through May. Nymphs have two activity periods in southern latitudes -- April through June for overwintering ticks and July through August for current year progeny. Peak activity of larvae generally occurs June through August, but may vary due to seasonal climatic and geographic influences.

Primary disease pathogens associated with the lone star tick include southern tick-associated rash infection, human ehrlichiosis, tularemia and red meat allergy. During spring and summer, this tick prefers wooded or brushy areas.

Gulf Coast tick

Range of the Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum) extends along the Gulf of Mexico and southern Atlantic coasts from Texas to South Carolina. As stated in The Tick App, these three-host ticks also are established in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. Larvae and nymphs feed on small mammals and ground-frequenting birds including quail, meadowlarks and field sparrows. There is increasing evidence of nymphs attaching to large animals such as cattle, but because of their small size and short feeding period, these ticks often go unnoticed. Adult ticks attach and feed on cattle, horses, deer, sheep, feral swine, coyotes, dogs, cats and other carnivores.

Gulf Coast ticks normally inhabit grassland prairies and edges of wooded areas. Adult ticks attach and concentrate feeding primarily in the ears of their hosts. This clustered feeding habit concentrates tissue damage and can cause "gotch ear" in young calves, a condition that causes a reduced market price.

Seasonal activity of Gulf Coast ticks varies among population locality. Adults in coastal and south Texas regions become active early in spring and their activity peaks during August and September. Larvae and nymphs from coastal populations generally are active from fall through early spring. Disease pathogens associated with the Gulf Coast tick include a form of human rickettsiosis and American canine hepatozoonosis.

It is important to control ticks. They not only suck profits from cattle operations, but they also can carry disease to cattle and other animals including humans.

Photo by Robert Fears

0324- Deer are hosts to most tick species and can spread them to cattle.

Photo by Robert Fears

leo ranch - Treated ear tags are one method of tick control.

Photo by Robert Fears

Packaged meat - Cattle should be checked for ticks every time they are penned.

Photo by Robert Fears

Rosewood ranch - Female ticks lay eggs in vegetation and then the hatched larvae wait for opportunities to attach to a host.

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