Experimental & Applied Acarology

, Volume 18, Issue 7, pp 383–407 | Cite as

Factors affecting the distributions of the ticks Amblyomma hebraeum and A. variegatum in Zimbabwe: implications of reduced acaricide usage

  • R. A. I. Norval
  • B. D. Perry
  • M. I. Meltzer
  • R. L. Kruska
  • T. H. Booth


The ticks Amblyomma hebraeum and A. variegatum are the main vectors of heartwater, a disease of ruminants caused by Cowdria ruminantium, in the agricultural areas of Zimbabwe. At present, A. hebraeum is widely distributed in the dry southern lowveld, and occurs in at least seven foci in the higher rainfall highveld. Amblyomma variegatum occurs in the Zambezi valley and surrounding dry lowveld areas in the northwest. The distribution of A. hebraeum has changed considerably over the past 70 years, while that of A. variegatum appears to have remained fairly static. The distribution patterns of both species in Zimbabwe display anomalous features; the ticks occur in areas of lowest predicted climatic suitability for survival and development and in areas where the densities of cattle, the most important domestic host, are lowest. The only factor favouring the survival of the species in the lowveld habitats in which they occur is the presence of alternative wildlife hosts for the adult stage. Their absence from more climatically favourable highveld habitats appears to have been the result of intensive acaricide treatment of cattle over a long period and a historic absence of significant numbers of wildlife hosts. Eradication of A. hebraeum and A. variegatum by intensive acaricide treatment of cattle can be achieved in the absence of significant numbers of alternative hosts, because of the long attachment and feeding periods of the adults of these tick species. However, eradication becomes impossible when alternative hosts for the adult stage are present, because a pheromone emitted by attached males attracts the unfed nymphal and adult stages to infested hosts. The unfed ticks are not attracted to uninfested hosts, such as acaricide-treated cattle.

Regular acaricide treatment of cattle is expensive and so, for economic reasons, the Government of Zimbabwe is no longer enforcing a policy of strict tick control. It is likely that reduced tick control will result in the spread of Amblyomma ticks to previously uninfested areas. Added to this, recent introductions of various wildlife species to highveld commercial farming areas have created conditions in which the ticks could become established in higher rainfall areas. Amblyomma hebraeum is more likely to spread than A. variegatum, because its adults parasitize a wider range of wildlife hosts (warthogs, medium to large-sized antelope, giraffe, buffalo and rhinoceros), whereas adults of A. variegatum appear to be largely restricted to one wildlife species (buffalo) in Zimbabwe, the distribution of which is now confined to very limited areas of the country, as part of foot and mouth disease control measures. A model to predict the rate of spread of A. hebraeum through the highveld is described.

Possible control options for dealing with the spread of Amblyomma ticks and heartwater to previous unaffected highveld areas, include (1) continuation of intensive acaricide treatment of cattle to prevent the spread, (2) establishment of a buffer zone of intensive tick control around affected areas to contain the spread and (3) allow the spread to occur and control heartwater by means of immunization. An economic analysis to determine the costs and benefits of the control options, which takes into account the development of Amblyomma-specific tick control technologies and improved heartwater vaccines, is recommended.

Key words

Amblyomma hebraeum Amblyomma variegatum acaricides tick control wild life CLIMEX 


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Copyright information

© Science and Technology Letters 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. A. I. Norval
    • 1
  • B. D. Perry
    • 2
  • M. I. Meltzer
    • 1
  • R. L. Kruska
    • 2
  • T. H. Booth
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Infectious Diseases, College of Veterinary MedicineUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.International Laboratory for Research on Animal DiseasesNairobiKenya
  3. 3.CSIRO Division of Forestry and Forest ProductsCanberraAustralia

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