(Jackson, Wyo.) - Have you noticed the moose looking pretty mangy over the last few months? We have, too, so we asked Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Alyson Courtemanch why this is. The answer? Winter ticks. "When you see a moose with either whitish or grayish patches on their fur or they almost look completely white or grey, that is caused by what we call winter ticks or moose ticks," said Courtemanch. "It is a certain species of tick that gets on moose, elk deer, but doesn't attach to humans." "They will attach to moose, elk and deer and moose seem to get them the worst. Behaviorally, moose aren't very good at grooming themselves. If a deer or elk get a tick, they are pretty effective at grooming them off, so they have fairly low tick loads," Courtemanch added. "Moose aren't very efficient groomers so they will end up with huge loads of these ticks on them in the wintertime. It can vary a lot, but research has shown that one moose can often carry 10,000 to 50,000 ticks." These ticks impact the moose the worst during March and April. During the summer, the ticks are in the egg stage. In the fall, they hatch into larvae and then wait for an animal to brush up against them so they can attach. During the winter, the ticks live on the moose, and then in January and February, the ticks molt into the adult stage, where they start to feed on the blood of the moose. "When you have 10,000 - 50,000 ticks on a moose, they can actually suck quite a lot of blood," said Courtemanch. "It has been estimated that on a calf moose in late winter (March or April), the ticks can result in about an eight liter blood loss in that animal, which is over half of the entire blood in the calf moose's body." Courtemanch explained that March and April is a tough time for moose. They are in their worst body condition of the year. She said it's actually fairly common to see a moose with a high winter tick load die of anemia or blood loss. When the ticks are feeding on the moose, it causes irritation and itching for the animal. In response, the moose scratches itself, rubs against trees and shakes to try to relieve the irritation. With all that scratching, the dark outer hairs of the moose break off, causing the patchy appearance that we have been seeing. "March and April is when the moose look the worst," said Courtemanch. "Those ticks will start to drop off in Late April and early May." "One thing that a lot of people call us about, is that they will see a moose laying down in the snow and when the moose gets up, they will notice there is a lot of blood in the snow," she added. "We get a lot of calls from people who are concerned that there is a moose that has been wounded, but more often than not that is from the ticks." Basically, the moose has laid on the ticks and caused some blood to get on the snow. Have you seen some mangy moose around Jackson Hole? Send us photos here.
*Feature Photo: Mangy Moose Roaming Aspen Drive in Jackson. h/t James
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