A species of biting fly that may transmit disease-causing bacteria to humans was reported in Ontario for the first time on Oct. 8.
A European deer ked (Lipoptena cervi) landed on someone in Thousand Islands National Park near the US border, according to Dr. Michael Skvarla, extension educator and director of the Insect Identification Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.
It’s the first published record of the species in Canada, that he is aware of. The Invading Species Awareness Program, a provincial partnership between the OFAH and Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, has not received reports.
Photo uploaded to aid identification
The Ontario specimen was not collected, but a photo of the parasite was uploaded to www.inaturalist.org, where it was viewed by University of Guelph Insect Collection Curator Steven Paiero, who brought it to attention of his fellow entomologist.
One of four kinds of deer keds in North America, the European deer ked is common in temperate areas of Europe, Siberia, and northern China, and are spreading across the northeast United States.
In fact, deer keds are more widespread in North America than previously believed, according to a study published earlier this year by Skvarla and his colleagues.
Flies misidentified as ticks
He suspects the blood-sucking flies have been in Canada for some time, but are likely being misidentified by hunters as deer ticks because of their similarities.
“They can’t be in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire and not in Canada,” Skvarla said. “They don’t recognize political boundaries.”
It’s unclear if European deer keds are an invasive species in North America. Skvarla doesn’t buy the notion that they were brought here, because that means catching a ride on imported deer.
Their behaviour also seems to contradict that. While they live primarily on whitetail deer here, they live mostly on moose and other animals overseas, he pointed out.
Deer keds are usually found on deer, moose, and elk, but can also bite humans and domestic animals.
Unclear if keds spread disease
They have been found to contain pathogens such as bacteria that cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and catscratch fever. Skvarla and his colleagues are working to determine whether the parasites can transmit disease-causing microorganisms to humans through bites.
They are planning DNA sequencing of insects collected in Pennsylvania and surrounding states to determine what percentage of North American keds contain pathogens. After that, they hope to launch a study that would determine if they spread diseases.
“It’s a bit of a black box… nobody knows if they are vectors,” Skvarla said.
The parasites are attracted to movement of large objects in the woods — a moose or a hiker, for example. Deer keds hatch in the fall and shed their wings after finding a host to remain with for the rest of their lives, Skvarla said.
Keds can run up hunters’ arms
They are known to run up a hunter’s arm during field dressing, for example, before biting somewhere on the body, he added.
Skvarla stressed that researchers, like him, want to create awareness, but don’t want to cause panic. He reminded that all tick-borne illnesses can be treated with antibiotics and everyone should be mindful of flu-like systems after a bite.
“It’s an easy treatment if you catch it early,” he said.
For more information on Skvarla’s work or how to report a possible encounter, click here.