State to check moose for ticks
MONTPELIER — As Vermont’s six-day moose hunting season got underway Saturday, Fish and Wildlife officials planned to count the number of ticks on the animals brought into weigh stations.
The move comes after New Hampshire has seen a tick-related drop in moose numbers.
Vermont’s moose population also has declined in recent years from an estimated 5,000 animals in 2005 to about half that number now. Fish and Wildlife officials think the decline is largely due to their own management by allowing increased hunting.
Wildlife biologist Cedric Alexander, the state’s moose project leader, tells Vermont Public Radio that moose numbers are now below target levels.
He says the state would prefer a population range of between 3,000 and 5,000 animals, based on the habitat available and other factors, including moose-automobile collisions.
In neighboring New Hampshire, the main culprit in the moose decline is the winter tick, which unlike other ticks is active in winter.
In the fall the larval winter ticks mass on vegetation a few feet from the ground, Alexander said.
“If a moose walks by, the ticks on the end of the cluster grab on to it and they’re all grabbed on to each other so this huge glob of winter tick larvae, which are the size of a grain of sand come onto the moose and then they spread out. Moose usually have 30,000 to 100,000 ticks on them,” he said.
The ticks gorge on the moose’s blood, weakening the animal. The itching can also cause hair loss, which makes moose more vulnerable. The ticks drop off in April to reproduce and by then they’re the size of grapes, Alexander said..
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