New England Moose Defeated in Struggle Against Winter Ticks
In an October morning at sunrise, Josh Blouin stood outside an old store in Island Pond, Vermont, 16 miles south of the Canadian border, preparing to — hopefully — see a moose. Wearing neoprene boots and a buffalo plaid shirt, Blouin, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, drank his coffee and explained that he would use telemetry to track one of the large ungulates, but the watch this will require slow ignorance. and quietly through the woods (which, inconveniently, are covered with crispy fallen leaves).
For Blouin, it’s a routine. On most days since 2017, he wears hiking boots, rain boots, or snowshoes and hikes through the rugged forests of Vermont to observe crowd members. of moose with the department’s radio collar to find out why the population there has shrunk by 45 percent. less than a decade. Blouin’s fieldwork reveals some disappointing numbers, which he and his colleagues published in a ROLE this summer. On average, from 2017 to 2019, only 66 percent of moose cubs survived in their first 60 days. Only 49 percent survived their first winter. Birth rates have dropped by half.
What killed these big animals? Tiny, tiny ticks.
It turns out that Blouin wasn’t the only one looking for a moose that day. Beginning in October, winter ticks “hunt” —find a host organism — in groups of a thousand or more, interlocking their arms so that when a detective catches a passerby, they all climb. These ticks are like any warm -blooded host, but the moose is much better. Not only does the moose lack a posture instinct, but they also offer a thick, eight -inch coat, which keeps ticks “nice and warm,” Blouin said. “They live a good life.”
Unlike other ticks, which can spend a few days with a host, transmitting the disease in the process, winter ticks are looking for the season, molting from larva to nymph to adult in course of five months, did not spread the disease but wasted large amounts of blood. Moose calves, which are about six months old at the onset of winter, and pregnant cows cannot produce enough blood to fill their systems. In the spring they are anemic, malnourished, and disoriented. “They’re suffering a horrible, slow death,” Blouin said.
He called April “the month of mortality.” That’s when radio collars send messages to his cell phone — about three a day — that a moose has stopped moving. The corpses that Blouin took for necropsy were bare, almost bald, and covered in as many as 70,000 ticks. “These noble animals are curled up, skin and bone. This is a sad scene, ”he said. Even the moose that can survive the winter will come out depleted and less fertile.
Winter ticks are not new to the scene, but the mild weather is brought on by climate change. Long autumn and late snow give ticks more time to find a host. Early springs are also beneficial to parasites, which finally fall on the moose in April. If the female detective falls in the snow, they die; if they fall on leaf litter, they will lay up to 4,000 eggs. In New England, this kind of weather used to be an anomaly. Now this is the norm.