Ornithodoros hermsi Wheeler (Acari: Argasidae) is the vector of Borrelia hermsii, the primary cause of tick-borne relapsing fever in North America. This tick is one of the smallest Ornithodoros species involved with the biological transmission of spirochetes; yet, the amount of blood ingested while feeding is unknown. Therefore, we determined the amount of blood O. hermsi ingested during a bloodmeal to establish its potential for spirochete acquisition while feeding on an infected host. Ticks at different developmental stages were weighed before and after feeding and the volume of blood ingested was calculated. Females ingested the most blood, averaging ≈15 µl per meal, but late-stage nymphs took in the most blood in proportion to unfed body weight. A cohort of nymphs was weighed three more times during the 48 h after feeding, which demonstrated that O. hermsi may have excreted coxal fluid ranging from 24–36% of the bloodmeal weight. We also developed a quantitative polymerase chain reaction method to determine the number of spirochetes ingested and maintained within the ticks after feeding. The density of spirochetes in ticks having just engorged was slightly less than in the host's blood. In the first 5 d after feeding, the number of spirochetes within the ticks declined from the number initially ingested but then remained constant through 15 d. These observations establish a basis for future studies to determine the minimum number of spirochetes required in the host's blood to allow O. hermsi to become persistently infected and transmit during subsequent bloodmeals.
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Vol. 47 • No. 6