The aim of this study was to survey the bacterial diversity of Amblyomma maculatum Koch, 1844, and characterize its infection with Rickettsia parkeri. Pyrosequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA was used to determine the total bacterial population in A. maculatum. Pyrosequencing analysis identified Rickettsia in A. maculatum midguts, salivary glands, and saliva, which indicates successful trafficking in the arthropod vector. The identity of Rickettsia spp. was determined based on sequencing the rickettsial outer membrane protein A (rompA) gene. The sequence homology search revealed the presence of R. parkeri, Rickettsia amblyommii, and Rickettsia endosymbiont of A. maculatum in midgut tissues, whereas the only rickettsia detected in salivary glands was R. parkeri, suggesting it is unique in its ability to migrate from midgut to salivary glands, and colonize this tissue before dissemination to the host. Owing to its importance as an emerging infectious disease, the R. parkeri pathogen burden was quantified by a rompB-based quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assay and the diagnostic effectiveness of using R. parkeri polyclonal antibodies in tick tissues was tested. Together, these data indicate that field-collected A. maculatum had a R. parkeri infection rate of 12–32%. This study provides an insight into the A. maculatum microbiome and confirms the presence of R. parkeri, which will serve as the basis for future tick and microbiome interaction studies.
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