Bat tick found for the first time in New Jersey

Photo Courtesy of J. Occi/Rutgers Center for Vector Biology
Above are live larval bat ticks, Carios kelleyi, removed in 2019 from big brown bats in Mercer County.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — A tick species associated with bats has been reported for the first time in New Jersey and could pose health risks to people, pets and livestock, according to a Rutgers-led study in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

This species, Carios kelleyi, is a “soft” tick. Deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, are an example of “hard” ticks.

“All ticks feed on blood and may transmit pathogens — disease-causing microbes — during feeding,” said lead author James L. Occi, a doctoral student in the Rutgers Center for Vector Biology at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “We need to be aware that if you remove bats from your belfry, attic or elsewhere indoors, ticks that fed on those bats may stay behind and come looking for a new source of blood. There are records of C. kelleyi biting humans.”

This soft tick species, a parasite of bats, is known to be in 29 of the 48 contiguous U.S. states, and was confirmed in New Jersey as larvae collected from big brown bats, Eptesicus fuscus, in Mercer and Sussex counties. This is a new addition to the list of New Jersey ticks.

While the public health risk remains unknown, “finding them on New Jersey bats was an unusual event that prompted bat specialists to contact us. Maybe these ticks are becoming more common,” said senior author Dina Fonseca, a professor and director of the Center for Vector Biology in the Department of Entomology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

In other states, C. kelleyi has been found infected with microbes that are harmful to people, pets and livestock. There have been reports of this soft tick feeding on humans, and the bat that hosts them regularly roosts in structures such as attics and barns, underscoring the need to learn more about them, the study says. 

To read the study, visit https://academic.oup.com/jme/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jme/tjaa189/5902793.

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