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Moose in Vermont Recovering from Tick Infestation

Nov 03, 2014 12:54 PM EST

Moose populations have been suffering over the past decade due to blood-thirsty ticks, but now a herd in Vermont is showing signs of recovery from the infestation, according to wildlife officials.

The state's Department of Fish and Wildlife believes a "normal" winter and late spring could explain the fewer ticks found on moose carcasses during Vermont's October hunting season.

"Hopefully that is what we'd like to see, a normal winter, a normal retention of the snowpack up here to cause more mortality of the adult ticks and therefore fewer larvae in the following fall," the department's moose biologist Cedric Alexander told The Associated Press (AP).

Moose herds in the area normally range from about 3,000 to 5,000, but as the tiny parasites bite and bleed the animals, causing anemia, their numbers have dropped to an estimated 2,500. In addition, when the troublesome ticks gang up on moose, it causes them to scratch off their fur, making it harder to withstand cold weather.

On a positive note, so far this hunting season, which began in September, the number of ticks found on moose is down 41 percent. Using a technique developed in Maine, biologists in Vermont searched carcasses for immature ticks in four sample areas on 124 of the 169 moose taken by hunters. They found an average of 15.9 ticks, down from an average of 27.1 last year.

"They do concentrate in certain areas," Alexander explained, "but without a doubt when you get a count of a hundred ticks in our little sample area, that means there are tens of thousands of ticks on that individual moose."

Aside from ticks, wildlife officials also blame climate change in part for the decline in moose populations, which have been cut in half in less than a decade.

Moose, the largest of the deer species, National Geographic says, are most recognizable for their huge antlers that can eventually span more than six feet (1.8 meters). They can be found in the northern regions of North America, Europe and Asia.

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