January 14, 2011
Attention Monitor Lizard Owners: this TickEncounter story is for you!! Thought you couldn’t have any more fun with your pet? ….well, how about if it brought you a SPECIAL tick encounter. Let’s just call this one exotic(k). The adult-stage monitor lizard tick (Amblyomma exornatum) pictured, along with two others, were attached near the vent (near base of tail) of a juvenile 18 inch-long Savanna Monitor surrendered to the Rhode Island SPCA in October 2010. The former owner, who surrendered several other reptiles at the same time, reportedly had either purchased or acquired this monitor from a Providence, RI-based reptile retailer and had maintained it for about a year in his East Providence, RI apartment.
Amblyomma exornatum is certainly not native to Rhode Island but is widely distributed in Africa, and has been found to enter the USA as a parasite on imported African reptiles. It is a one-host tick, meaning that all life stages (larvae, nymphs, adults) feed on the same host, principally monitor lizards. The blood-engorged females detach from their host to lay eggs, and newly hatched larvae latch on to the next suitable host they find. In this way, reptile holding facilities may become tick infested and spread these ticks to cage-mates, who can then maintain the ticks by themselves just fine, even for years. Many imported reptiles pass through Florida, where this tick has now been introduced, and so, may have infested this savanna monitor before it was transported to Rhode Island.