New species of ticks are gaining ground

Scientists have noticed the arrival of colored ticks in Luxembourg. It is especially dangerous for dogs, but it also bites humans.

scary disease vector

Scientists have noticed the arrival of colored ticks in Luxembourg. It is especially dangerous for dogs, but it also bites humans.

(MM with Volker BINGENHEIMER) – The other day, while emptying his mailbox, Dr. Alexander Wigan found an unusual letter in it. “I opened the envelope and found a plastic wrap. Inside, there were live ticks crawling,” says the biologist and curator of the Nature Museum. An interested citizen had picked up the tick, which seemed unusual to Grevenmacher, without hesitation and sent it to a tick expert.



The tiger mosquito, Japanese mosquito, giant tick, and new species of insects appear and can transmit viruses and bacteria. Luxembourg is arming itself to ensure effective health monitoring and to protect itself from the epidemic.


The tick, which was still active, was placed in the freezer and examined under a microscope in the laboratory of the Museum of Nature. It was an alluvial forest tick.

Throughout the greater area, multicolored ticks are common and can spread meningitis and typhus. However, the dominant species of tick is still the common xylocope, which is reddish and black in color.

The species gained a foothold in the south

Within a short time, the Awald sign (Luxembourgish: “Suppenzeck”) had spread to Luxembourg and now forms a stable population. The species, which belongs to the red tick family and mostly chooses dogs as hosts, is spotted and larger than the native species. These pesky little monsters move like spiders.


The alluvial forest tick is well established in the southern half of Luxembourg.

The alluvial forest tick is well established in the southern half of Luxembourg.

Photo: shutterstock

In 2015, the first specimen was discovered in Wellenstein, in the canton of Remich. Since then, this new species of tick has settled in the southern half of the country.

Originally, the alluvial forest tick was native to Austria-Hungary, but it has found its way to the warm regions of Western Europe. The sunny Moselle Valley serves as a distribution corridor. It may seem strange that a small five-millimeter animal with short legs, which can only crawl a few meters, can cover such long distances. “We must start not from the individual animal, but from the whole population. It spread to Luxembourg in a natural way, that is, with the help of the host animals, “explains biologist Alexandre Wigan.

If the spread is very fast, it is also because the red tick reproduces with an alarming speed. After a blood meal, the fertilized female lays between 3,000 and 5,000 eggs, which then hatch into larvae.

The forest alluvial tick primarily attacks dogs, but also similarly sized mammals such as sheep, wild boar, or deer. Humans are also bitten, but rarely.

Vampires are feared because they transmit canine malaria (babesia), but they can also transmit FSME and Q fever through their bite. “It is mainly the adults that transmit these diseases, not the nymphs,” explains tick expert Alexander Wigan. Viruses and bacteria most often come from intermediate hosts. They could be cows, rodents, or hedgehogs.”

Christina Gerstenmaier from Trier had a bad experience with the forest alluvial tick. Last fall, the animal bit her four-year-old daughter in the scalp. “She had a purulent infection at the site of the bite, followed by a high fever for several days, so we had to take her to the hospital,” says the mother.

After a long period of mystery, doctors diagnosed a rare bacterial infection. The antibiotics given did not work. “Fortunately, the fever went away on its own after five days,” says Christina Gerstenmaier. Her daughter is fine again, only the sting is still red today.


In the lab, Dr. Alexander Wigan makes a DNA profile of the sent ticks.

In the lab, Dr. Alexander Wigan makes a DNA profile of the sent ticks.

Photo: Anouk Anthony

A second species of invasive tick appeared in the western Rhineland-Palatinate. Sheep ticks also attack humans and cause pain around the bite for months, scaling of the skin and swollen lymph nodes. One patient even contracted typhus. This disease caused by bacteria last appeared in Europe as an epidemic during World War II. However, sheep ticks have not yet appeared in Luxembourg.

Put your pants into your socks

To protect yourself from a tick bite while hiking in the forest or in the meadow, there is a simple trick: wear long pants and put the legs of the pants in socks. Small insects are also easier to spot on light-colored clothing than on dark clothing.

After a long stay in the garden or in nature, the entire body should also be examined for any possible ticks. If you notice a bite and the tick is embedded in your skin, it should be removed as quickly as possible using tick tweezers or a tick card.

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Live or dead, dipped in a jar or taped to paper, one hundred insects and animals are brought each year by individuals to the National Museum of Natural History. Some specimens have been identified and preserved, and they are real finds.

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