USDA marked a milestone this month in a continuing battle against "Texas fever ticks" in cattle -- it was 100 years ago, in 1906, that USDA established the National Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program.

At the turn of the century, the fever tick (Boophilus microplus and Boophilus annulatus), which carries a disease known as "Texas fever," wiped out 90% of cattle herds in affected areas and brought an end to historic cattle drives. Due to the success of USDA's eradication program, the only area in the U.S. still infected with fever ticks by 1943 was an approximately 500-mile long swath of land along the Rio Grande River adjoining Mexico.

Fever tick surveillance and eradication is still carried out along the Texas-Mexico border by a cadre of dedicated "tick riders" or mounted patrol officers from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's veterinary services program. A team of about 60 tick riders routinely patrol the Rio Grande River on horseback to monitor for signs of stray or smuggled livestock from Mexico that might carry ticks into the U.S.

Tick riders capture any animals they find by roping them, and checking each for fever ticks. They also ensure all cattle and horses being moved by local ranchers outside the designated permanent quarantine zone along the river are inspected from "head to hoof" to ensure they are tick free, and treated with a tickicide.

Continued vigilance is necessary as white-tailed deer can carry fever ticks, and the presence and growth of exotic introduced animals, such as Nilgai antelope from India and red deer from Europe, can also harbor the tick.

In Mexico, where the ticks are endemic, there's growing evidence the pests are becoming increasingly resistant to Coumaphos, which is the only tickicide currently approved in the U.S. to kill fever ticks.
-- USDA release