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The tick Ixodes ricinus is responsible for the transmission of a number of bacterial, protozoan and viral diseases to humans and animals in Europe and Northern Africa. Female I. ricinus from England, Switzerland and Italy have been found to harbour an intracellular α-proteobacterium, designated IricES1, within the cells of the ovary. IricES1 is the only prokaryote known to exist within the mitochondria of any animal or multicellular organism. To further examine the distribution, prevalence and mode of transmission of IricES1, we performed polymerase chain reaction screening of I. ricinus adults from 12 countries across its geographic distribution, including tick colonies that have been maintained in the laboratory for varying periods of time. IricES1 was detected in 100% of field-collected female ticks from all countries examined (n = 128), while 44% of males were found to be infected (n = 108). Those males that are infected appear to harbour fewer bacteria than females. Sequencing of fragments of the 16S rRNA and gyrB genes revealed very low nucleotide diversity among various populations of IricES1. Transmission of IricES1 from engorged adult females to eggs was found to be 100% (n = 31). In tick colonies that had been maintained in the laboratory for several years, a relatively low prevalence was found in females (32%; n = 25). To our knowledge, IricES1 is the most widespread and highly prevalent of any tick-associated symbiont.