Tick season in Germany: Look out for “flying ticks”
Ticks can cause similar problems amongst humans, spreading diseases like tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease, as well as some other, lesser-known diseases like babesiosis and boutonneuse fever. In 2019, a Hyalomma tick even infected a man in North Rhine-Westphalia with typhus.
Beware of “flying ticks”
Between July and October, the deer louse fly is also active in Germany. Sometimes known as a “flying tick”, these critters make a beeline for their target and then shed their wings when they land, burrowing down, biting and sucking blood from their victims. The ticks usually target animals, but attacks on humans have been recorded. They prefer to bite humans on the scalp or neck and can cause allergic reactions and even heart infections.
Deer louse flies are usually found in forests in the summer and autumn. It is recommended to thoroughly check any pets after walks in case they have been bitten by ticks. Ticks can be located using a flea comb and removed with adhesive tape or washed away. Any animal that has been infested with ticks should be bathed and washed.
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The deer ked (Lipoptena cervi) mainly parasitize elk and deer but also bite humans. It is unknown whether it serves as a vector for transmission but the following have been detected:
- Lyme disease
Remains of L. cervi have been found on Otzi, the Stone Age mummy.
While male deer flies collect pollen, female deer flies feed on blood, which they require to produce eggs. Females feed primarily on mammals. They are attracted to prey by sight, smell, or the detection of carbon dioxide. Other attractants are body heat, movement, dark colours, and lights in the night. They are active under direct sunshine and hours when the temperature is above 22 °C (71.6°). When feeding, the females use scissor-like mandibles and maxillae to make a cross-shaped incision and then lap up the blood. Their bite can be painful. Anti-coagulants in the saliva of the fly prevents blood from clotting and may cause severe allergic reactions. Parasites and diseases transmitted by the deer fly include tularemia, anthrax, anaplasmosis, equine infectious anemia, hog cholera, and filiariasis. DEET is not an effective repellent.
New records show spread of parasitic deer flies across the United States
- May 31, 2019
- Penn State
- With flattened bodies, grabbing forelegs and deciduous wings, deer keds do not look like your typical fly. These parasites of deer — which occasionally bite humans — are more widely distributed across the US than previously thought, according to entomologists, who caution that deer keds may transmit disease-causing bacteria.
With flattened bodies, grabbing forelegs and deciduous wings, deer keds do not look like your typical fly. These parasites of deer — which occasionally bite humans — are more widely distributed across the U.S. than previously thought, according to Penn State entomologists, who caution that deer keds may transmit disease-causing bacteria.
“It was more or less known where deer keds are found, but very broadly,” said Michael Skvarla, extension educator and director of the Insect Identification Lab in the Department of Entomology at Penn State. “We don’t know if deer keds transmit pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms), but if they do, then knowing where they are at more precisely could be important in terms of telling people to watch out for them.”
The researchers collated records of the four North American deer ked species and produced the most detailed locality map of these flies to date, documenting ten new state and 122 new county records. The researchers published their results in a recent issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology. They also provided an illustrated species-identification key.
The team harnessed citizen science — collection of data by the public — to gather deer ked records from the U.S. and Canada. In addition to scouring museum databases and community websites like BugGuide and iNaturalist, the team distributed deer ked collection kits to hunters as part of the Pennsylvania Parasite Hunters community project. The researchers also collected flies directly from carcasses at Pennsylvanian deer butcheries.
“I really like using citizen science information,” said Skvarla. “It often fills in a lot of gaps because people are taking photographs in places that entomologists may not be going. Deer keds are the perfect candidate for citizen science. They’re easy to identify because there’s only four species in the country and because they’re mostly geographically separated. And as flat, parasitic flies, they’re really distinctive. You couldn’t do this with a lot of insect groups because they’d be too difficult to identify from photographs.”
The European deer ked, Lipoptena cervi, thought to have been introduced from Europe, previously was reported to occur throughout the Northeast region. The researchers newly report this species from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and as far south as Virginia. In Pennsylvania, it occurs throughout the state, with 26 new county records.
The researchers also describe new records of the neotropical deer ked, L. mazamae, from North Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri — increasing its range further north and east than had previously been reported.
In western North America, two deer ked species, L. depressa and Neolipoptena ferrisi, are found from British Columbia through the U.S. and into Mexico — and as far east as South Dakota. The researchers newly report these species from Nevada and Idaho.
Deer keds are usually found on deer, elk and moose, but occasionally bite humans and domestic mammals. Although several tick-borne pathogens — including bacteria that cause Lyme disease, cat scratch fever and anaplasmosis — have been detected in deer keds, it is unknown whether they can be transmitted through bites.
“In Pennsylvania you have a lot of hunters,” said Skvarla.
“Deer keds can run up your arm while you’re field dressing a deer and bite you. If these insects are picking up pathogens from deer, they could transmit them to hunters. With two million hunters in the state, that’s not an insignificant portion of the population. We don’t want to scare people, but people should be aware there is the potential for deer keds to transmit pathogens that can cause disease.”
The researchers will next screen hundreds of deer keds for pathogens. They will also dissect some insects to screen the salivary glands and guts separately. According to Skvarla, this approach will give a good indication of whether deer keds could transmit pathogens through bites, or whether the bacteria are merely passed through the gut after a blood meal.
In Pennsylvania, after deer keds emerge from the soil each fall, they fly to a host and immediately shed their wings, usually remaining on the same host for life. Females produce just one egg at a time — it hatches inside her, and she feeds the growing larva with a milk-like substance. When the larva is almost fully developed, it drops to the soil and forms a pupa, eventually emerging as a winged adult. If disease-causing bacteria are transmitted from mother to offspring, newly emerged flies could pass on pathogens to hosts. Pathogens could also be spread when bacteria-harboring flies jump between animals in close contact.
The other researcher working on this project was Erika Machtinger, assistant professor of entomology at Penn State.
Deer Ked: A Lyme-Carrying Ectoparasite on the Move
Lipoptena cervi, known as the deer ked, is an ectoparasite of cervids traditionally found in northern European countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Although rarely reported in the United States, this vector recently has been shown to carry Borrelia burgdorferi and Anaplasma phagocytophylum from specimens collected domestically. Importantly, it has been suggested that deer keds are one of the many disease-carrying vectors that are now found in more expansive regions of the world due to climate change. We report a rare sighting of L cervi in Connecticut. Additionally, we captured a high-resolution photograph of a deer ked that can be used by dermatologists to help identify this disease-carrying ectoparasite.