Winter ticks are thriving in Maine. Their host, moose, are dying-off at a staggering rate, according to an ongoing tracking survey.

Shorter winters in Maine has contributed to an exploding winter tick population. The parasitic insects are thriving, and killing their hosts at an alarming rate. Winter tick primarily target Maine moose. While adult moose can handle a mind boggling load of winter ticks, to the tune of around 90,000 in extreme cases, calves simply can't. And that's why they are dying at a horrifying rate.

Winter tick is a specific species of tick, which has been found to not be an invasive species in Maine. Unlike dog or deer ticks, winter ticks have a one year lifecycle. They thrive on moose, which can host anywhere between 45,000 and 90,000 ticks. The ticks consume about one milliliter of blood, which when multiplied by tens of thousands, leads to gallons and gallons of blood loss. The blood loss causes moose calves to quickly become anemic, and cow moose tend to suffer from various forms of reproductive issues. The photo below is of an adult male winter tick.

Victor Grabarczyk, Unsplash
Victor Grabarczyk, Unsplash

Maine Public recently spoke with Lee Kantar, the leading moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. According to Kantar, 86% of collared moose calves in the survey died of health complications that were exasperated by massive winter tick loads. 70 moose were GPS collared for the survey during the winter of 2021 in a study area in WMD 4. Of those moose, only ten were alive come May of that year. It's a grim glance at the reality of life in the Maine woods for these incredible animals.

That's why all eyes are on the experimental Adaptive Moose Hunt. The special hunt began last year, when 550 cow permits were issued in a 2,000 square mile section in WMD 4. The special hunt will hopefully help biologists determine if moose density reduction can break or lessen winter tick impacts to moose in Maine. To learn more about the Adaptive Unit Hunt, read our in-depth article.

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The Adaptive Moose Hunt will take place again this fall, in the same study area. Hunters who applied for a moose permit were once again able to apply for a cow permit, as apart of the hunt. The names of hunters selected for moose permits will be announced June 11, at the first-ever Jackman Region Moose Lottery Festival.

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