Several squirrels, some deceased and some near death, were discovered by Steve Leirer in the Dairy Hill area last month, all apparently victims of tick infestation. Initially identified as diseased by Leirer, one squirrel appeared in pictures to be playing host to a tick.
“I first discovered a dead diseased squirrel in early July 2021 that had larger and many lesions like those shown in the picture,” Leirer stated in an email. “Three other diseased squirrels were found alive, but lethargic, and disoriented and were disposed of, and buried.”
Leirer went on to say that all the squirrels in question were discovered within a 500 square yard radius of the Dairy Hill area. The Seward Journal submitted Leirer’s photos to Alaska Department of Fish and Game (AF&G) Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, who diagnosed the squirrel as a victim of ticks.
“The gray things are ticks, this animal has relatively few,” Dr. Beckmen said. “The areas where there is little hair with sores are where ticks were previously attached.”
The lone species of tick native to Alaska is known predominantly to infest squirrels and hares, but other non-native species, introduced by pets and by changing climate, have been increasingly identified throughout the state over the past several years. The growing prominence of the invasive species are of such concern that the state veterinarian has established the Alaska Submit-A-Tick Program, where anyone discovering a tick is asked to carefully remove the pest and send it in a sealed plastic bag to the State Veterinarian Office in the Department of Environmental Conservation for testing. The program allows the state to assess tickborne disease in the state.
More information on submitting ticks is available on the Department of Environmental Conservation website at dec.alaska.gov/eh/vet/ticks/submit-a-tick/.
According to the State Veterinarian website, all tickborne illnesses found in humans in Alaska have come from tick bites received out of state. There has been no spread of tickborne illness to humans from a tick bite within Alaska. Common tickborne illness in the United States are: anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mounted Spotted Fever, and tularemia. Some of these diseases can be transmitted by methods other than tick bites.
In 2019, the last year data is available, there were 232 records of ticks collected by the survey representing 522 individual ticks. The most common tick was Ixodes angustus which is common in Canada and much of the United States – particularly northern areas. Eighty-five percent of the ticks were found on domestic animals and wildlife and found in the summer months with the peak in July. The majority of ticks were found in the Interior Region. Eleven samples were submitted of nonnative species of ticks in Alaska from hosts that had not traveled outside Alaska.
The state advises pet owners to inspect them well when bringing them into the state. Livestock is inspected by a veterinarian prior to entry into the state.