‘Ticks out west like biting’: Professor’s painstaking parasite map

Kangaroo ticks and paralysis ticks mapped by University of Queensland researchers


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A map showing the distribution of kangaroo ticks throughout outback Queensland. CREDIT: Microbiology Australia.

A map showing the distribution of kangaroo ticks throughout outback Queensland. CREDIT: Microbiology Australia.

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Kangaroo ticks in outback Queensland are far more likely to bite than their counterparts on the coast.

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The ticks in outback Queensland like to bite far more than their counterparts on the coast, Professor Stephen Barker says.

The parasitologist from the University of Queensland is currently unravelling the habits and habitats of ticks throughout Australia. 

Professor Barker's latest study, alongside researcher Dayana Barker, charts the location of Ixodes holocyclus and Amblyomma triguttatum, otherwise known as the eastern paralysis tick and the kangaroo tick, respectively.

One fascinating finding of the work was the difference between kangaroo ticks in outback Queensland and the eastern part of the state, Professor Barker said. 

"The kangaroo tick in western Queensland – Cunnamulla for example – it bites people a lot," he said. 

"The females are around in September, October, November - around now is when people are getting bitten.

"But towards the coast the same tick doesn't bite people nearly as much. We have no idea why ticks out west like biting people, but in the east they don't.

"We have no idea. They look the same and their DNA is the same, but they behave differently." 

The location of eastern paralysis ticks in Queensland. CREDIT: Microbiology Australia.

The location of eastern paralysis ticks in Queensland. CREDIT: Microbiology Australia.

The study, published in an upcoming issue of the journal Microbiology Australia, also presented a guide illustrating the differences between the ticks.

"Ticks are quite specific in the places that they live. Farmers send us ticks and vets send us ticks and we go and collect them from roadkill," Professor Barker said.

The eastern paralysis tick (left) alongside the kangaroo tick (right). CREDIT: Microbiology Australia.

The eastern paralysis tick (left) alongside the kangaroo tick (right). CREDIT: Microbiology Australia.

"Knowing who is where is a basic requirement for work on tick-borne disease."  

As the name suggests, eastern paralysis ticks - or scrub ticks - are almost exclusively found on the east coast. 

These ticks can cause paralysis and are carried by animals such as dogs, cattle and horses.

Kangaroo ticks, on the other hand, are found in some areas of Western Australia and scattered parts of outback Queensland. 

These ticks are primarily found in kangaroos and feral pigs, and can carry disease-causing bacteria.

"We are trying to figure out why the distributions are so distinct," Professor Barker said.

"Perhaps a farmer was bitten and feels unwell, then if we know the location that's a key part of identifying the tick, and then what bit them."

Although Professor Barker had mapped the habitat of paralysis ticks and kangaroo ticks, he said he still had his work cut out for him.

"There are over 70 species of tick in Australia that bite people, wildlife and domestic animals," he said.

"Our desire is to make maps for all of these, so that we know who is where, and why they don't live where they don't.

"It's our life's work. We spend decades collecting this information. "

The story ‘Ticks out west like biting’: Professor’s painstaking parasite map first appeared on North Queensland Register.

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