Soft ticks (Ixodida: Argasidae) are medically important ectoparasites that mainly feed on birds and mammals, which play a key role in their geographic distribution and dispersion. Despite their importance, studies on soft ticks are scarce for many regions and countries of the world, including Pakistan.
In this study, 2330 soft ticks—179 larvae (7.7%), 850 nymphs (36.4%), 711 males (30.5%) and 590 females (25.3%)—were collected from animal shelters in 18 locations within five districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. A subset of the collected ticks was processed for DNA extraction and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the amplification of tick 12S ribosomal DNA (rDNA), 16S rDNA and cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (cox1), and rickettsial 16S rDNA gene fragments. The obtained sequences were used for the construction of a phylogenetic tree.
All the specimens were morphologically identified as Ornithodoros, and were morphologically similar to Ornithodoros tholozani. The genus was confirmed by sequencing partial 12S rDNA, 16S rDNA and cox1 gene fragments. Additionally, a Rickettsia sp. was detected in some of the collected ticks by PCR targeting 16S rDNA. The morphological relatedness of the tick specimens with O. tholozani was confirmed by phylogenetic analysis, in which the Ornithodoros sp. clustered with Ornithodoros tholozani and Ornithodoros verrucosus, both of which belong to the subgenus Pavlovskyella and have been previously reported from Israel, Ukraine and Iran. The phylogenetic tree also indicated that the Ornithodoros sp. from Pakistan corresponds to an undetermined species. Furthermore, the associated Rickettsia sp. grouped with the limoniae group of Rickettsia species previously reported from Argas japonicus ticks from China.
This is the first molecular study of an Ornithodoros species from Pakistan. Further studies are essential to confirm its identity and possible pathogenicity with regard to its associated microorganisms in the studied region.