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Ticks (Acari: Ixodida) on synanthropic small and medium-sized mammals in areas of the northeastern United States infested with the Asian longhorned tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis.

The northeastern United States (US) is a hotspot for tick-borne diseases. Adding to an already complex vector landscape, in 2017 large populations of the invasive Haemaphysalis longicornis, the Asian longhorned tick, were detected in New Jersey (NJ) and later found to be widespread from Connecticut to Georgia. In its native range in northeastern Asia, H. longicornis is considered an important vector of deadly pathogens to humans, companion animals, and livestock. To identify the primary hosts of H. longicornis, we surveyed synanthropic small and medium-sized mammals in three different sites in suburban New Brunswick, NJ. Specifically, we collected approximately 9,000 tick specimens belonging to nine species from 11 different species of mammals sampled between May and September 2021. We found that H. longicornis feeds more frequently on rodents than previously thought, and that this invasive tick is likely exposed to important enzootic and zoonotic pathogens. Overall, we obtained detailed information about the seasonal dynamics and feeding patterns of six tick species common in the northeastern US, Haemaphysalis longicornis, Amblyomma americanum, Dermacentor variabilis, Ixodes scapularis, Ixodes texanus and Ixodes cookei. We found that unlike I. scapularis that feeds on mammals of all sizes, H. longicornis feeds on hosts following the general pattern of A. americanum, favoring larger species such as skunks, groundhogs, and raccoons. However, our survey revealed that unlike A. americanum, H. longicornis reaches high densities on Virginia opossum. Overall, the newly invasive H. longicornis was the most numerous tick species, both on multiple host species and in the environment, raising significant questions regarding its role in the epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens, especially those affecting livestock, companion animals and wildlife. In conclusion, our findings provide valuable insights into the tick species composition on mammalian hosts in NJ and the ongoing national expansion of H. longicornis.

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