Ticks Are Killing 70% Of New England’s Baby Moose—Here’s Why

As many as 95,000 ticks have been found on a single moose.

April 13, 2017
moose and babies
Copyright by Quicksnap Photos/ Getty

On a recent trip back to Massachusetts to visit my parents, my dad—the outdoorsy type who wears lots of flannel, chops his own wood, and loves to tell a good story—told me a pretty unbelievable tale about the current state of New England’s beloved moose. 

“They’re all dying,” he said. “People are finding 90,000 ticks on one moose! Those blood sucking bastards are wiping them out.”

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I was a little skeptical—how could such a small parasite take out an animal that weighs up to 1500 pounds? It didn’t make sense. Coming from my dad, who has been known to exaggerate a thing or two, I decided to take this information with a grain of salt and do a little fact checking. 

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Turns out, he was mostly right. We already know that we’re in store for one of the worst years for Lyme disease in humans due to the booming population of ticks—but moose are faring even worse. Per a recent New York Times’ article, researchers say that over the past few years, about 70 percent of the moose calves they tagged in New England have been killed by ticks. 

They’ve been nicknamed “ghost moose” because they look white and patchy from rubbing up against trees, which damages their fur and makes their skin raw. Each “ghost moose” can harbor a staggering 35,000 to 95,000 ticks, according to moose researchers, and most of them are dying right now—April has actually been dubbed “the month of death.”   

Related: 5 Ways To Keep Ticks Out Of Your Yard

So, why is it happening? In a nutshell: climate change. When the fall is warm and winter comes late (not-so-fun fact: from the 1900s to the 2000s Maine’s warm season increased by two weeks), ticks can thrive through winter, and it’s these winter ticks that are attaching to vulnerable calves and literally sucking the life out of them. Each tick takes around 2 to 4 milliliters of blood, and calves are dying of acute anemia because they can’t replace it fast enough, says Professor Peter Pekins, chairman of the Natural Resources and Environment Department at the University of New Hampshire, in an interview with Public Radio International

 

The best course of action to stop the massive number of moose deaths, however, is unclear—and, as mentioned in the New York Times' article, some potential solutions are a bit counterintuitive. Some argue that the spread of winter ticks is also due to an overall increased moose population since the 1990s—more moose equal more hosts for ticks—and that increased moose hunting would drive down the tick population. While others say that, over time, tick population will natural decline as they kill off too many of their moose hosts, thus establishing a new equilibrium.  

Related: 5 Ways Your Garden Can Support The Local Wildlife

The one bit of good news, however, is that scientists aren’t the only ones concerned. According to a National Geographic article, because moose watching makes up a good chunk of Maine’s tourism industry, government agencies are funding research to figure out exactly what’s going on, and (hopefully) help contribute to a sustainable solution. 

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