In this undated photo, a blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, rests on a plant. Non-native ticks, including some with significant veterinary and medical importance, are showing up in Alaska and health officials fear a warmer climate may allow them to become established. A collaborative project between the University of Alaska and state wildlife and veterinary officials is working to understand the risk of non-native ticks such as blacklegged ticks and pathogens they could carry. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

In this undated photo, a blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, rests on a plant. Non-native ticks, including some with significant veterinary and medical importance, are showing up in Alaska and health officials fear a warmer climate may allow them to become established. A collaborative project between the University of Alaska and state wildlife and veterinary officials is working to understand the risk of non-native ticks such as blacklegged ticks and pathogens they could carry. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Tick, tick, tick: Alaska braces for invading parasites

These non-native ticks represent a threat to wildlife, people

ANCHORAGE — Health and wildlife officials are taking steps to prepare for potentially dangerous parasites that could gain a foothold because of Alaska’s warming climate.

Non-native ticks represent a threat to wildlife and people because they can carry and transmit pathogens, said Micah Hahn, an assistant professor of environmental health with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Things are changing really rapidly in Alaska,” she said. “It’s really important for us to establish a baseline. We need to know what ticks are already here, what ticks are established and reproducing, and where they are, so that we can monitor these changes as the environment changes in the future.”

A $125,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health will help sample ticks and prepare a model to forecast where ticks could thrive, she said Tuesday in a presentation to the Local Environmental Observer network, whose members report unusual animal, environment and weather events.

Researchers will look for ticks in the field. Researchers, wildlife officials and the state veterinary office also are encouraging biologists and the public to participate in a “Submit-a-Tick” program, in which they pluck blood-sucking arachnids from people and pets, drop them off at Department of Fish and Game offices and fill out a form with details of their capture.

Alaska is largely free of many pests that bedevil people elsewhere, from snakes to creepy-crawly insects. Alaska’s handful of native ticks attach themselves to squirrels, snowshoe hares and wild birds and sometimes moose, dogs, or cats, but no one buys bug repellent or tick collars to keep them at bay.

However, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game nearly a decade ago began to collect tick samples out of concern that moose ticks, which can kill moose, especially calves, could establish themselves in Alaska.

Moose ticks have been found within Alaska’s neighbor, Canada’s Yukon Territory.

“We are nervous that it’s very close to our border,” Hahn said.

The search for moose ticks led to the recovery of a variety of non-native ticks, she said. Most were associated with travel outside the state. Researchers believe they hitch rides on people and pets but also migratory birds.

In some cases, non-native brown dog ticks and American dog ticks were found by people who had not left the state in months, Hahn said. “The question is, where did that tick come from?”

Officials have created an online Alaska tick information page with instructions on how to collect ticks. Researchers will use data collected to create a model focused on two nonnative ticks of concern, blacklegged ticks and western blacklegged ticks. Both can transmit Lyme disease. Ten Alaskans reported Lyme disease in 2017 but all were exposed in other states.

Just because non-native ticks reach Alaska, it doesn’t mean they will survive, Hahn said. Some ticks are vulnerable to dry conditions or harsh winters. The models will coordinate tick sampling information with environmental conditions in Alaska, such as humidity, temperature and rainfall, to project where non-native ticks might thrive in future decades as climate conditions change.

Alaska doctors and veterinarians don’t now automatically consider a connection to ticks if a person or pet shows up for treatment and has not traveled, Hahn said.

“If we know what species are here, and where they are in the state, it can help us develop control measures to make sure we stay on top of the problem,” Hahn said.


• This is an Associated Press report by Dan Joling.


More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Dec. 2

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Hunter credits community members for Thanksgiving rescue

KENAI — On Thanksgiving, Alaska Wildlife Troopers released a dispatch about a… Continue reading

The snowy steps of the Alaska State Capitol are scheduled to see a Nativity scene during an hour-long gathering starting at 4 p.m. Friday which, in the words of a local organizer, is “for families to start their Gallery Walk in a prayerful manner.” But two Outside groups dedicated to placing Nativity scenes at as many state capitol buildings as possible are proclaiming it a victory against the so-called “war on Christmas.” The head of Alaska’s Legislative Affairs Agency, which has administrative oversight of the building, said the gathering is legal since a wide variety of events occur all the time, often with religious overtones, but the placement of a fixed or unattended display is illegal. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Scene and heard: Religious freedom groups say Nativity event makes statement

State officials say happening planned for Capitol relatively common and legal.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Thursday, Dec. 1

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Steve Lewis, foreground, and Stephen Sorensen from the Alaska State Review Board scan ballots from precincts where they were hand counted at the Division of Elections office Nov. 15. Board officials spent the period between the Nov. 8 election and its certification Wednesday performing about 20 different to verify the results. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Election certified, but challenges pending

Outcome of at least two state House races unknown, which may determine chamber’s leadership

Errol Culbreth and Scotlyn Beck (Polichinelles) rehearse ahead of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker.” The immensely popular ballet is coming to the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Friday through Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Juneau Dance Theatre is ready to get cracking

“The Nutcracker” is set to run Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Most Read