The U.S. National Tick Collection (USNTC)
With over 125,000 accessioned lots, over one million specimens, their associated data, and an extensive library (reprints, monographs, and books), the U.S. National Tick collection is one of the largest curated tick collections in the World, if not the largest. It belongs to the U. S. National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution) and has been housed at Georgia Southern University since 1990. The collection contains specimens from all continents, most of the approximately 860 known species of ticks, and a quarter of the primary tick types.
Ticks (Ixodida) are haematophagous mites (Acari). During their blood meal, ticks can acquire and/or transmit a number of microorganisms, some of which can cause diseases in humans, domestic and wild animals. Because of the impact of ticks on human and veterinary medicine, the USNTC is not only a significant resource of material and information for tick taxonomists but also for public health officials.
At the very beginning of the last century, while studying Rocky Mountain spotted fever outbreaks in Montana and Idaho, a team led by Dr. Howard T. Ricketts discovered the role of ticks in transmitting pathogens to humans. This finding galvanized the interest of scientists in tick systematics. The historical core of the present collection was maintained by Dr. Robert A. Cooley (1873-1968) and one of his students, Dr. Glen M. Kohls, in the Department of Entomology and Zoology of Montana State College. In 1931 the collection and its curators moved to the newly funded Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML)
. The RML tick collection rapidly increased in size and taxonomic breadth thanks to donations, acquisitions (Paul Schulze and Fred C. Bishopp collections), and active fieldwork expeditions organized by the curators and their collaborators around the World. A long-standing collaboration with Dr Harry H. Hoogstraal a civilian working for the U.S. Navy in Cairo and arguably the most productive tick taxonomist in history, was instrumental in securing additional holdings, particularly from Asia and the Middle East. Dr. Carleton M. Clifford and Dr. James E. Keirans were nominated curators in 1961 and 1969, respectively. The RML collection became the USNTC when it was donated, in 1983, to the U. S. National Museum of National History (Smithsonian Institution -SI). At his death, in 1986, Dr. Hoogstraal left his large tick collection to the USNTC, which became one of the most comprehensive tick collection in the World. Under the curation of Dr. Keirans, in 1990, the USNTC was transferred to GSU on a long-term enhancement loan to GSU and through a Memorandum of Understanding between GSU and the SI. Dr. Keirans, assisted by Dr Lance A. Durden from 1992 to 2003, was in charge of the collection until 2005. His research and the network of collaborations he established with U.S and international researchers were crucial in the transition from traditional tick alpha-taxonomy into modern, morphological and molecular-based, tick systematics. For more historical information: L.A. Durden, J. E. Keirans, and J.H. Oliver (1996). The U.S. National Tick Collection: a vital resource for systematics and human and animal welfare. American Entomologist 42: 239-243.
The facility includes fully equipped morphological and molecular laboratories. Specimens and their associated data are used for original scientific research on the systematics, evolutionary history, and population genetics of ticks and their related pathogens. Staff members are involved in morphological and molecular studies of target taxa. (see staff web pages). The research carried out at the USNTC, since its transfer to GSU, generated hundreds of publications written by the curators and associated scientific collaborators and visitors. Since 2005 the curators were involved in over 50 presentations in national and international peer-reviewed meetings. In addition to their basic taxonomic research, the curators are also revising all USNTC holdings, in order to make them progressively available to the research community and the public through the Smithsonian Entomology Collection web site.
Examples of NSF/NIH funded ongoing research at the USNTC
- NSF Collaborative-Linked EID award #914390 – Testing alternative hypotheses for gradients in Lyme disease in the eastern United States: climate, host, community and vector genetic structure (PI: L. Beati)
- REVSYS NSF grant #1026146 – Exploiting a large existing resource for biogeographical and host-parasite data: linking immature and adult amblyommine ticks (PI: L. Beati)
- The National Institute of Health: Systematics of medically important Dermacentor tick vectors (PI: D.A. Apanaskevich)
Selected Examples of Recent Publications (43 Since the Arrival of the New Curatorial Team in 2005)
- L Beati, JE Keirans, LA Durden, MD Opiang (2008). Bothriocroton oudemansi (Neumann, 1910) comb. nov. (Acari: Ixodida: Ixodidae), an ectoparasite of the long-beaked echidna in Papua New Guinea: redescription of the male and first description of the female and nymph. Systematic Parasitology 69:185-200.
- DA Apanaskevich, IG Horak (2008). Two new species of African Haemaphysalis ticks (Acari: Ixodidae), carnivore parasites of the H. (Rhipistoma) leachi group. Journal of Parasitology 94: 594-607.
- DA Apanaskevich, IG Horak (2009). The genus Hyalomma Koch, 1844. IX. Redescription of all parasitic stages of H. (Euhyalomma) impeltatum Schulze & Schlottke, 1930 and H. (E.) somalicum Tonelli Rondelli, 1935 (Acari: Ixodidae). Systematic Parasitology 73: 199-218.
- AA Guglielmone, RG Robbins, DA Apanaskevich, TN Petney, A Estrada-Peña, IG Horak, R Shao, SC Barker (2010). The Argasidae, Ixodidae and Nuttalliellidae (Acari: Ixodida) of the world: a list of valid species names. Zootaxa 2528: 1-28.
- MM Santos-Silva, L Beati , AS Santos, R De Sousa, MS Núncio, P Melo, M Santos-Reis, C Fonseca, P Formosinho, C Vilela, F Bacellar (2011). The hard-tick fauna of mainland Portugal (Acari: Ixodidae): an update on geographical distribution and known associations with hosts and pathogens. Experimental and Applied Parasitology 55: 85-121.
- DA Apanaskevich, IG Horak, CA Matthee. S Matthee (2011). A new species of Ixodes from South African mammals. Journal of Parasitology 97: 389-398.
- L Beati, J Patel, H Lucas-Williams, H Adakal, EG Kanduma, E Tembo-Mwase, R Krecek, JW Mertins, JT Alfred, S Kelly, P Kelly (2012). Phylogeography and demographic history of Amblyomma variegatum (Fabricius) (Acari: Ixodidae), the tropical bont tick. Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 12: 514-525.
- LA Durden, L Beati. Modern Tick Systematics. In: Biology of Ticks (2nd edition); D.E. Sonenshine and R.M. Roe (eds) Oxford University Press in New York City, New York, USA (in press; 2013)
Researchers studying tick systematics are declining in number around the World. In order to prepare new generations of taxonomists it is, therefore, essential to include students in our curatorial and research activities. In the last 6 years, about 16 undergraduate and 9 graduate students from GSU benefitted from the USNTC resources while carrying out their Biology research projects (4890, 7890, honor student thesis, master thesis). The curators are involved in teaching in a number of external workshops and summer programs, in particular the Ohio State Acarology Summer Program.
Visiting the USNTC
The USNTC is temporarily closed to visitors and will re-open Spring 2015. We are sorry for any inconvenience. Please see this press release
for more information.
With dozens of visitors each year, the USNTC has a long tradition of accommodating national and international researchers for more or less extended periods of time. The collection is accessible and made available to visitors, as are our laboratories. Visits can be organized upon request (please e-mail the curator).
Forms (Loans and Accessions)
For loans or tick accessions, please fill in the following forms and submit them by e-mail to the USNTC e-mail address. Loans are usually discussed with the requestors, as shipping of ethanol-containing vials and (even dead) disease vectors often require special permits. When possible, the USNTC will generate high quality images for the requestor making sure that all of the important taxonomic characters are visible, instead of shipping materials.
Interactive Key for the Hard-Ticks of the Eastern U.S.
The U.S. National Tick Collection
75 Georgia Avenue, Building 204
Statesboro, GA 30460
Phone: (912) 478-5565
Fax: (912) 478-0559
Curator: Dr. Lorenza Beati
Assistant Curator: Dr. Dmitry Apanaskevich
Administrative Secretary: Earlene Howard