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

Meals slated for children in Juneau over Thanksgiving weekend are arrayed on tables at Thunder Mountain High School on Nov. 25, 2020. (Courtesy photo / Luke Adams)
Font of plenty: JSD readies meals for Thanksgiving holiday

Nearly three tons of food got distributed for the long weekend.

Travelers arrive at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, made up only about half of what the airport normally sees in the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Centennial Hall, seen here on Tuesday, Nov. 24, is being used by the City and Borough of Juneau as an emergency facility during the coronavirus pandemic and will not host the annual Public Market which has taken place every weekend after Thanksgiving since 1983. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Want to buy Alaskan? Closed by pandemic, Public Market goes virtual

Normally throngs of Juneauites would be lined up around the block…

To capture the unexpected action- the unrepeatable moment- it should be instinctive.  In order to build the story you have to shoot the adjective.  In this photo the bald eagle had waited patiently for the right moment to pounce on an unsuspecting vole… the unexpected.  The best way to accomplish this is to master the art of the most difficult subject to photograph– birds in flight.  In order to do this you must learn your gear; it must become part of your muscle memory so you can concentrate on the story you are witnessing.  Canon 5D Mark III, Tamron 150-600mm, shot at 600mm, ISO AUTO (1250), F6.3, 1/3200, Handheld. (Courtesy Photo / Heather Holt)
Focal Point: Great photos are just waiting in the wings

Learn to shoot the verb (and the bird).

Has it always been a police car. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020

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

Construction of the new Glory Hall, above, is going smoothly, said executive director Mariya Lovishchuk on Nov. 24, 2020. (Courtesy photo / Thor Lindstam)
Building a brighter future: New Glory Hall reaches skyward

The structure is rapidly progressing, shouldering aside inclement weather.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Tuesday, Nov. 24

The most recent state and local numbers.

A sign seen near Twin Lakes on Sept. 17 encourages residents to wear cloth face coverings while in public. Health officials are asking Alaskans for help with contact tracing. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Health officials seek help with virus notification

Recent surge created a contact tracing backlog.

Most Read