Energy & Environment

While Vermont hunters search for turkeys, scientists prowl for ticks

A lone star tick. Photo by Judy Gallagher via Wikimedia Commons

Vermont turkey hunters this year are being asked to also be on the prowl for lone star ticks.

For the first time, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets volunteers will inspect turkeys for lone star ticks at the start of this year’s turkey hunting season, according to a press release from the agency.

Chris Bernier, lead turkey researcher at the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, said they’re hoping to confirm the existence of the lone star stick in Vermont — which has yet to be identified in the state — by examining the harvested birds. The tick has “eluded capture through standard surveillance methods,” including dragging a white cloth through forest underbrush and vegetation, according to the release.

While the first objective this turkey season is to try to find lone star ticks, Bernier said, “the second objective is to test this system, its viability for monitoring for this tick species.”

Volunteers will staff several reporting stations around the state during the upcoming Youth Turkey Hunting Weekend (April 23 and 24) and opening day of the 2022 spring turkey season (May 1), according to the release.

Hunters will have to grant permission to inspect the turkeys to the volunteers, who also plan to record information about where the turkey was harvested. The agency does not expect tick inspections to take more than five minutes at a time.

Hunters also have the option of reporting their harvests through a virtual platform.

The project was originally planned for 2020 but was pushed back to this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Bernier said.

While the lone star tick does not carry Lyme disease, it does carry other diseases transmittable to humans such as ehrlichiosis, Southern tick-associated rash illness and tularemia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These diseases are dangerous to people — but rarely fatal — and can cause a variety of symptoms including headaches, chest pain and joint pain.

The tick has been found throughout the eastern, southeastern and south-central states, with the “distribution, range and abundance” of lone star ticks increasing in recent decades, according to the CDC. 

It’s named for “an easily identifiable tick due to the white dot or 'lone star' spot” on its back, according to the National Environmental Health Association.

There are no known risks to turkeys from lone star ticks and no risk to humans who eat turkeys that have lone star ticks attached to them, health officials said.

Vermont is focusing on turkeys instead of other animals because ticks in their larval stage primarily feed on birds, and they have been found on turkeys in other states, according to Bernier.

The department also advises hunters to prevent themselves from being bitten by ticks by ticks, advising them to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants with pants tucked into socks, use an EPA-approved insect repellent and do daily tick checks.

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Talia Heisey

About Talia

Talia Heisey is a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying journalism and English. There they are the managing editor of the Amherst Wire as well as a past staff writer for the the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. A Massachusetts native, they have interned for the Framingham Source, DigBoston and the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.

Email: [email protected]

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