Population Dynamics of Off-Host Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus (Acari: Ixodidae) Larvae in Response to Habitat and Seasonality in South Texas
The cattle tick, Rhipicephalus microplus (Canestrini), is an economically destructive arthropod because of its ability to vector bovine babesiosis. It is known that cattle ticks can spend 80–90% of their lifecycle as questing larvae, yet the effect of climatic factors on their off-host behavior and survival is unclear. The goal of this study was to measure the effects of specific ecological factors on off-host questing larvae in nature. The study was conducted in a south Texas pasture over a two-year period, during which time larval populations were surveyed. Simultaneously, weather variables—precipitation, relative humidity, and ambient temperatures—were recorded. Larval survival rates varied among seasons, with the overall highest populations recorded in the spring and the lowest in the fall by a ratio of 20:1. In the winter, the larger numbers were collected from exposed habitats at a ratio of 6:1. Conversely, canopied habitats in the summer had 10-fold larger larval numbers. In the spring, exposed and canopied habitats showed no difference in tick larval survival rates. The results show that the interaction between season and habitat strongly influence off-host questing tick survival. Relative humidity was a key weather variable.