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Vermont sees its first bat tick

For the first time, a bat tick is found in Vermont.
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 8:20 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - For the first time, a bat tick has been found in Vermont.

In May 2021, a homeowner in Chittenden County told state bug experts they found something crawling along the ceiling, but they didn’t know what it was.

″After examining it, we were like no way, this looks like a soft tick,” said Cheryl Frank Sullivan, a tick expert at the University of Vermont.

Sullivan says the bug was sent to researchers for confirmation, and it was indeed a soft tick, more specifically, an adult bat tick.

“Naturally, this finding was very intriguing,” said Sullivan. “It turned out that that attic harbored a small colony of big brown bats.”

Vermont has more than a dozen types of ticks. All are considered “hard ticks,” meaning they have a hard shell. This is the first confirmed soft tick.

So what does this mean?

Many animals have a tick, like the moose tick. The bat tick targets bats and is usually found wherever bats are roosting. That could mean problems for homeowners who have bats living in their attics and barns.

“It has become an issue in places like Kansas and Iowa when houses have really high numbers of bats using it, which in turn increases the density of parasites that are associated with them,” said Sullivan.

The ticks can carry diseases like relapsing fever.

Sullivan says it’s rare for bat ticks to go after something that isn’t a bat. However, it did happen in Chittenden County with the homeowner’s dog.

Now, researchers are trying to figure out what the bat tick means for humans, pets and even bats.

“Wildlife live with a lot of these parasites and the big thing is to make sure that we’re safely living with wildlife that we’re in close quarters with, like bats living in buildings,” said Alyssa Bennett, the bat expert with Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

Bennett says this discovery doesn’t change how to safely get or keep bats out of buildings, but there will be more work to do after they’re gone.

“Follow up with a pest control service and ask them what to do to set up some CO2 traps to look for the ticks and see if they happen to be there,” said Bennett.

Bats already aren’t a fan favorite and having a disease-carrying tick doesn’t help, but Bennett says it’s important to care about keeping bats around.

“They’re eating a ton of other bugs that we consider pests, so when you think of the emerald ash borer, big brown bats are known to eat that species. Mosquitoes, a lot of our little brown bats and Indiana bats that forage along waterways eat those species,” said Bennett.

Since the first discovery in Vermont, more were found on a bat taken in by the Vermont Bat Center. The bat tick is now in 32 states.

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