Exotic Ticks Identified After Farmer Is Found Covered in Thousands Have Now Made N.J. Home

An East Asian tick species mysteriously arrived in New Jersey last summer — and hasn't left

New Jersey has an unwanted new resident that appears to be making its stay permanent.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture said in a press release, Friday, that the Haemaphysalis longicornis, a tick native to countries like China, Korea and Japan that is also known as Longhorned tick or the bush tick, has survived the winter and “has possibly become established in the state.”

The mysterious pest was first discovered last summer when a farmer visited health services in Hunterdon County covered in thousands of ticks after shearing a 12-year-old Icelandic sheep named Hannah, according to NJ.com.

James L. Occi, research microbiologist and a PhD student at Rutgers University’s Center for Vector Biology, tells PEOPLE that researchers are unsure how the tick — which previously was not believed to exist in the United States — entered the country. NJ.com reported that the sheep found carrying the ticks rarely left Hunterdon County.

James Occi

“We have no idea how it got here,” Occi tells PEOPLE. “Possibly on someone traveling internationally with a pet or pets.”

Andrea Egizi of the Monmouth County Mosquito Control Lab did the preliminary identification of the foreign tick, while Tadhgh Rainey of the Hunterdon County Health Department collected samples from the farmer, Occi says.

Although the specimens have tested negative for “typical New Jersey tick-borne pathogens,” Occi says it’s unclear what residents can expect from the infestation.

And while they may not be a threat to humans, the tick species could bring harm to livestock and wildlife.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture said “nymphs of the Longhorned tick are very small (resembling tiny spiders) and can easily go unnoticed on animals and people. This tick is known to infest deer and a wide range of other hosts. Therefore, it has the potential to infect multiple North American wildlife species.”

The department will continue to monitor animals for the tick throughout the year.

Health and wildlife officials are working to eliminate this pest from the index premises and ensure it does not spread to other areas.

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