Learning About “Ghost Moose” Made Me Cry For These Majestic Creatures

New England’s moose population is suffering the consequences of climate change. Sadly dubbed, “ghost moose,” due to their skeletal frames and pale appearance, these animals are being ravaged by ticks, which are now flourishing due to the area’s shorter, milder winters.

Their ghostly appearance is caused by losing their brown coats to intense scratching, revealing their lighter undercoats and pale skin. Tick infestations can exceed the tens of thousands and one recorded necropsy cited over 100,000 ticks latched onto a single moose at its time of death. The side effects of so many ticks leaching the blood of these large mammals are devastating.

The extreme hair loss these moose are experiencing is more than just an aesthetic inconvenience. Without their dense coats, many of these “ghost moose” are dying from hypothermia. However, the ticks’ detrimental effects don’t end there. Infested moose often suffer anemia from loss of blood, behavioral changes, and for many; the itching becomes so distracting they forget to forage, and starve to death.

via Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

The ticks are also affecting deer and elk. However, due to their dense and shaggy coats, moose have a harder time ridding themselves of the arachnids. The effects of the parasites also heavily afflict calf moose because their smaller bodies cause them to lose heat faster. They are also more greatly affected by the blood loss.

Ticks typically latch onto moose in November and feed off their hosts until April. Historically, the pests have perished at this time, as they are unable to survive in extreme weather. However, in recent years, ticks are not falling onto snow-covered ground, which has enabled their survival and allowed them to proliferate. By this time, the moose is feeble and malnourished from the blood loss and sparse winter. The damage is done, and it is during the month of April, which has been given the moniker “Month of Death,â€ when the greatest number of moose die.

“With their skinny necks, emaciated bodies, and big, hairless splotches, these moose look like the walking dead as they stumble through the forest.”

Christine Dell’Amore, National Geographic, June 2015

This winter is predicted to be even warmer and shorter than previous years, which is not good news for the moose. Researchers also warn against placing the blame solely on the ticks. Unfortunately, the problem appears to be more complex than that. Due to malnutrition and weakness from the ticks, the moose are also more susceptible to illnesses such as lungworm. Because so many moose are unhealthy, these diseases are able to comfortably flourish.

This video, by National Geographic, explores this horrifying tragedy.  Be warned that while informative, it is also heartbreaking.

Protect the Planet

Help preserve vital habitat at The Rainforest Site for free!