Cattle tick overview

  • Two engorged adult female cattle ticks
    Two engorged adult female cattle ticks
  • Boophilus females at various sizes
    Boophilus females at various sizes

Have you seen these ticks?

If you suspect the presence of cattle tick in the cattle tick free zone, report it to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Species name       Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus
Description       The cattle tick is an external parasite, mainly of cattle, and is regarded as a significant economic pest of the Queensland cattle industry. Cattle ticks are notifiable when they occur outside the Queensland cattle tick infested zone and must be reported to Biosecurity Queensland.
Where the disease occurs      

Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus affects a large proportion of the world's cattle population. Queensland´s cattle tick infested zone comprises the coastal areas east of the Great Dividing Range and north of the Great Northern Rail line. Cattle ticks are also found in the northern areas          of Western Australia and Northern Territory and sporadically through the northern rivers area of New South Wales.        

Cattle tick outbreaks can and do occur in Queensland's tick free zones. Outbreaks are more common in the marginal areas adjacent to the infested zone.        

The disease in animals      

Cattle are the main hosts for cattle ticks although they may be found on horses, goats, sheep, deer, camelids and buffaloes.        

Heavy cattle-tick infestation causes loss of condition and even death because of tick-worry and blood loss. They can also carry and transmit tick fever organisms, which cause illness and death in cattle. When cattle are heavily infested, ticks can be found anywhere on the body. On a lightly infested          animal the main places to look are the escutcheon, tail butt, belly, shoulder, dewlap and ears.        

Hides of heavily infested animals are damaged by tick bites which reduces their value. In severe cases hides may be unsaleable.        

Cattle are particularly vulnerable when they first encounter cattle ticks but develop a degree of resistance after repeated exposure. Bos indicus cattle (tropical breeds) and their crosses develop better resistance than do Bos taurus (British and European breeds). Horses, goats and sheep also suffer tick-worry but after a period of time they will develop strong resistance.        

Identification       The best time to identify the cattle tick is when it is at the adult stage. Other ticks which may be commonly found on cattle in Queensland are scrub ticks and New Zealand cattle (or bush) ticks.
Life cycle      

The cattle tick spends the parasitic stage of its life on the one host. This stage takes approximately 21 days during which time the tick changes from a minute larvae to a nymph and finally an adult. Adult females feed slowly for about a week before rapidly filling with blood just prior to detachement.          They then drop onto pasture, lay up to 3000 eggs and die. Eggs hatch to produce larvae which infest the pasture until picked up by a suitable host or they die. This non-parasitic stage can vary from approximately two months in summer to six to seven months over winter and is adversely affected by extremes          in temperature and moisture levels. Males feed occasionally, but do not fill with blood. They wander over the beast for two months or more, mating with females.        

In southern Queensland, ticks that fall between mid-April and late June produce virtually no progeny. However, engorged female ticks dropped in early autumn can produce larvae that will survive the winter and eventually result in a spring-rise in tick numbers. If not controlled, these ticks breed up          to a stage where there are great numbers in autumn and early winter.        

In the north of Queensland, ticks lay viable eggs year round. Further south, the reproduction cycle slows during winter. Heavy rain during the wet season can interfere with tick reproduction.        

Control of disease in animals      

Cattle ticks can be controlled to varying degrees using tick-resistant cattle, strategic treatments with chemicals, the cattle tick vaccine, pasture spelling or combinations of these methods.        

Under the Biosecurity Act, Queensland is divided into 2 tick zones for movement control purposes:        

  • the Queensland infested zone          
  • the Queensland free zone          

Before entering tick free stock from the tick infested zone must meet the risk minimisation requirements set out in the Biosecurity manual.        

Can people get the disease?       People can find cattle tick on themselves after working with cattle or other animals. The ticks are easily removed and cause no lasting affect apart from the site itching for a few days.

Further information

Last updated 13 November 2012