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Moose Populations Drop Due to Ticks

Sep 22, 2014 02:31 PM EDT

Moose season kicked off this Monday with a bit of a pest problem, as winter ticks have caused moose populations in New England and across parts of the northern United States to drop, according to reports.

Unfortunately for sportsmen expecting to bag a big moose, the added competition from this tiny parasite is prompting some states to offer hunters fewer permits or halt hunting altogether.

Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are all issuing fewer moose hunting permits this year while Minnesota, where ticks are among several factors that have cut the population by more than half in less than a decade, has completely halted the hunting season.

These troublesome ticks occur in all North American moose populations except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Alaska and far northern Canada, according to Alberta-based biologist Bill Samuel, who added that the ticks are the "most important external pest of moose in North America."

These parasites are devastating in that thousands can gang up on one moose at once, bleeding the animal and thereby causing anemia and death.

"It's really that they bleed them dry," Lee Kantar, Maine's moose biologist, told The Associated Press (AP). "If you have 10,000 ticks on you, that surface area makes it so you are removing more blood from that particular animal."

The largest wild animal in the northeast, moose can weigh more than 1,000 pounds and are prized for their meat as well as their enormous antlers, according to National Geographic. But thanks to bloodthirsty ticks, fewer of them can be found in the Northeast. In Maine, for example, winter ticks have helped reduce the moose herd from 76,000 in 2012 to between 65,000 and 70,000, state officials said. And in Vermont, the moose population is estimated around 2,500, below the state's ideal range of 3,000 to 5,000, the AP reports.

Many biologists suspect that warmer temperatures have caused the surge in tick-related moose deaths. Warm fall temperatures and early spring snowmelt improves conditions for winter ticks to thrive, meaning bad news for grazing moose.

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