Winter ticks causing sharp decline in Moose population in the northern parts of New England

Credit: Efraimstochter/ Pixabay

Spring is recognized as the time of rebirth. But in the northern region of New England, the moose population is facing a sharp decline in population on account of the ticks.

According to early findings of a five-year ongoing study in New Hampshire and Maine, widespread tick infestation is causing the regular death of moose. Researchers placed tracking collars on as many as 36 calves in the New Hampshire site and 75% of the collared population died due to ticks. For the second year in succession, the study has noted a decline in the population of moose due to tick attacks.

According to Kristine Rines, a Moose biologist, short winters do not bode well for the moose population over a long-term. On the other hand, milder and shorter winters favour ticks which tend to pile on top of tall plants on significant masses during November and wait for the prey (moose).  When the animal walks by, the ticks descend in hundreds and latch on to the skin to start a long winter meal off the large moose. As many as 75,000 ticks can latch on to the body of an average-sized moose.

By the time spring arrives, most moose and emaciated and rendered weak causing the death of most of the population in the region. Meantime, the ticks simply drop off on cold, snowy conditions and die. But, the shorter winters on account of climate change means that the tick can drop off from the host on bare ground and continue to live on to the detriment of more hosts.

New Hampshire has seen the average maximum temperatures have scaled up by 0.5 to 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit between 1970 and 2014. Maine, on the other hand, has warmed by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit during the past century and the length of the warm season extended by two weeks according to an update from the University of Maine.

However, in Maine mortality rate for moose calf dropped to 60 percent from 73 percent in 2015 though this could partly be attributable to the overall decline in the population of moose. Strangely, without the moose, the ticks would be facing the music since they depend on moose for their survival.