The Ixodidae

Amblyomma spp.

Amblyomma hebraeum – the South African bont tick

Amblyomma hebraeum is a medium-sized to large tick with long mouth-parts and banded legs, its eyes are flat, the conscutum of the male is ornate with two discrete lateral patches of colour, and with the exception of the first festoon on either side the festoons are uniformly yellow in colour. It closely resembles A. gemma, an East African tick, but has the two discrete lateral patches of colour on the conscutum which are joined to the main colour pattern in A. gemma, and the festoons of A. gemma are variably dark-brown and yellow.  Its distribution does not overlap with that of A. gemma (see Tick database for pictures and more information).

Amblyomma hebraeum and variegatum

Adults feed on cattle, sheep, goats and large wild ruminants, particularly giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis), African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and eland (Taurotragus oryx), also on warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) and black (Diceros bicornis) and white (Ceratotherium simum) rhinoceroses. Immatures infest the same hosts as the adults but also  small antelopes, scrub hares (Lepus saxatilis), helmeted guineafowls (Numida meleagris), and tortoises (e.g. Chersina angulata, Geochelone pardalis). The immature stages of this tick do not infest rodents (rats, mice, squirrels or gerbils), if they do they seem unable to engorge and usually die. The adults prefer the hairless areas under the tail, in the lower perineal region, on the udder and testes, around the prepuce and in the axilla of cattle, as well as around the feet of sheep and goats. The larvae are found on the feet, legs and on the muzzle, the nymphs attach on the feet, legs, groin, sternum and neck.

Amblyomma hebraeum is a three-host tick, like all other species of this genus. The adults and nymphs are “hunters”, scuttling along the ground when a suitable host is in the vicinity. After detaching the engorged female will lay up to 20 000 eggs. These eggs hatch after two to three weeks depending on the temperature and the larvae wait for hosts on the vegetation, from which very large numbers can be collected by drag-sampling the vegetation with flannel cloths. Once attached the larvae engorge in 7 to 14 days, detach and moult. The nymphs engorge in 7 to 14 days, detach and moult. The adult males attach and start engorging. Only when sexually mature males (i.e. males that have been attached for ± 6 days) are present will the females attach. The pheromones secreted by the mature male ticks also attract more male and female ticks as well as nymphs which all attach to the host, usually in the vicinity of the mature males. The males and females mate and the females engorge in 7 to 9 days and detach. The males may remain on the host animal for 2 to 4 months. The life cycle usually takes 1 year to complete, but may extend for longer.

This tick requires moisture and warmth, brush and bush and does not survive in open grassland. In South Africa it is found along the coastal belt from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province, through KwaZulu-Natal and thence across Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Limpopo and North-West Provinces, north of a line running approximately through Pretoria to the Botswana border. It is also present in eastern Swaziland, southern Mozambique, eastern Botswana and in southern and eastern Zimbabwe.

Amblyomma hebraeum transmits Ehrlichia ruminantium (heartwater) to domestic and wild ruminants, and Theileria mutans (benign bovine theilerioses) to cattle and Rickettsia africana, the cause of African tick-bite fever in humans. The larvae of A. hebraeum are probably more responsible than any other tick for tick bites in humans.

Amblyomma variegatum – the tropical bont tick

Adults of A. variegatum have long mouthparts and banded legs like A. hebraeum, but have different colour patterns on the conscutum and scutum, the colour pattern on the male conscutum is dark-orange. Their eyes are beady, and  the males have uniformly dark festoons.

It is widely distributed through West, Central, North-East and East Africa and in southern Africa extends into Zambia, north-eastern Botswana, the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, north-western Zimbabwe and central and northern Mozambique. Its spread southwards appears to be limited by interspecific competition with A. hebraeum with which it shares similar habitats, hosts and sites of attachment and by the drier conditions in the south. It has also been imported onto the Caribbean islands where attempts to eradicate it have cost millions of dollars without success, mainly because of the variety of hosts it infests, particularly the immature stages, and its re-introduction by birds infested with the immature stages flying from one island to the next.

Amblyomma variegatum transmits heartwater (E. ruminantium), benign bovine theilerioses (Theileria mutans, T. velifera), bovine ehrlichiosis (E. bovis), the virus of Nairobi sheep disease and is associated with acute bovine dermatophilosis (Dermatophilus congolensis).