Effect of Rickettsia Rickettsii (Rickettsiales: Rickettsiaceae) Infection on the Biological Parameters and Survival of Its Tick Vector-Dermacentor Variabilis (Acari: Ixodidae)

J Med Entomol. 2016 Jan;53(1):172-6. doi: 10.1093/jme/tjv166. Epub 2015 Oct 22.


Rocky Mountain spotted fever, caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, is a potentially fatal tick-borne disease spread from North America to Argentina. The major vectors of R. rickettsii in the United States are Dermacentor andersoni Stiles and Dermacentor variabilis (Say). It is generally believed that vector ticks serve as major reservoirs of R. rickettsii in nature; however, the ability of ticks to support the indefinite perpetuation of R. rickettsii has been challenged by reports of deleterious effects of rickettsial infection on D. andersoni. To better elucidate the relationship of the pathogen with D. variabilis, we assessed the effects of R. rickettsii on the survival, fertility, and fecundity of D. variabilis. We used an isolate of R. rickettsii (Di-6), originally acquired from an opossum caught in Virginia, and ticks from a laboratory colony established from adult D. variabilis also collected in Virginia. Overall, infection with R. rickettsii protracted the feeding periods of all life stages of ticks. Infected nymphal and adult ticks experienced a slight decrease in feeding success compared with the uninfected colony, but neither larval nor nymphal molting success was affected. Infected females reached smaller engorgement weights, were less efficient in conversion of bloodmeal into eggs, and produced smaller egg clutches with a lower proportion of eggs hatching. However, no sudden die-off was observed among infected ticks, and longevity was not decreased due to R. rickettsii infection in any stage. Although infection with the studied isolate of R. rickettsii caused slight decrease in fecundity in sympatric vector ticks, no obvious deleterious effects were observed.

Keywords: Dermacentor; Dermacentor variabilis; Rickettsia; Rickettsia rickettsii; Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Vectors / physiology*
  • Dermacentor / growth & development
  • Dermacentor / microbiology*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Longevity
  • Molting
  • Rabbits
  • Rickettsia rickettsii / physiology*
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever / transmission