Few will disagree that the moose tick, aka, winter tick (dermacentor albipictus) can be a problem and that an over-abundance kills moose. The claim I have heard for many years is that the moose tick has always been around. Has it? Is making the statement using “around” an honest depiction of more important site specificity? What also concerns me about such statements is that it gives people cause to throw up their hands as if to say that there is nothing that can be done about it now. That may be true, but if there is any hope of trying to discover whether there is some kind of effective cure, isn’t it important to have a complete understanding of this tick?
It is basic knowledge that when any specie of animal exists in abundance or is forced into living in close quarters, disease becomes prevalent. The only way a disease can become prevalent in any species, as I just described, is that somehow that disease, parasite, virus, worm, etc. had to have been introduced, or that it already existed.
Being that we are living in a post-normal or post-scientific world, the dishonest answer to everything is climate change, i.e. global warming. While moose populations in Maine have, until the last couple of years, been increasing in large quantities, this reality flies in the face of global warming arguments that because of a warming climate in Maine moose should be migrating out of the area. Doesn’t seem to be the case. This discussion isn’t necessarily about global warming. I bring it up because it is NOT an explanation that helps to discover facts about moose and winter ticks. These ticks live in the Yukon and the same ticks live in Texas.
From a science institution’s perspective, there can never be studies enough on anything. To go along with that, we humans have had our little brains manipulated in such a way that our response to far too many issues has become to demand a study or a working group to talk about it. Studies mean money and money means more incomplete studies in order that there be more demand for more studies. Very unfortunate.
Working groups are useless and a complete waste of time. Over the years I have seen them be created, propaganda presented and absolutely nothing getting accomplished.
Having said all this, then shouldn’t we question every time someone wants more studies and form more working groups? After all, it is OUR money. We should demand results…real results.
People in Maine want to know if ticks are really killing the moose. This is the same in New Hampshire and Minnesota. New Hampshire and Minnesota insist the problem is global warming. Global warming, in their wee bit of brains, is what is the cause of what they believe to be an increase in dermacentor albipictus.
We are also, perhaps incorrectly, told that these winter ticks don’t survive in cold climates and yet moose love cold climates and seem to be the one species most effected by the tick. If the winter tick doesn’t like cold climates, then why are these same tick regularly found in The Yukon? And in Texas?
One thing we all must understand, moose suck at grooming themselves. It is helpful knowledge to understand that because moose don’t groom themselves like lots of other wild and domestic animals, they carry around more ticks. We should be able to reasonably conclude that moose are more greatly effected by the tick than other ungulates, because they are poor groomers.
Another fact that is seldom discussed is which other animals play host to dermacentor albipictus? Here’s a few to add to your list: elk, caribou, deer, feral swine, wolves, coyotes, cattle and horses. In order to understand how to deal with the moose tick we need to understand other hosts and how the tick is spread. Bear in mind that elk and caribou migrate, sometimes over many, many miles. We know over the years feral swine are spreading all over the United States.
But, consider this fact. According to Gabriele Liebisch, Arndt Liebisch, Stephan Paufler in a study, a horse was transported by plane to Germany from Montana:
Already on arrival at the airport of Amsterdam about 30 fully engorged ticks dropped off the horse, and during the following 4 days in the stable in Germany more than 200 engorged ticks were collected. The tick species was identified as Dermacentor albipictus, which is also called ‘winter tick’.
This study refers to this tick as “New World Tick” because it is a different species than what might be found in Germany. Germany has moose but not necessarily the same problem with the tick and the moose…yet.
Other things found in studies already completed that should be considered, involve the feral swine. In a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, and published on BioOne, feral hogs found in New Hampshire were tested. Remember New Hampshire blames their problem with ticks on global warming.
The expansion of feral swine (Sus scrofa) populations into new geographic regions is of concern not only due to increased range but also because they carry diseases and parasites that pose a threat to humans, livestock, and wildlife into new areas. Recently, emerging feral swine populations have been reported in the northeastern US and due to their adaptive nature will likely continue to spread. During 2009–2012, 49 feral swine were removed from three counties in New Hampshire.
Infestations of winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus) were also documented on two of the feral swine which had only been reported previously on feral swine in Texas. Feral swine may not only serve as an important host for an economically important commercial swine pathogen like PRV, but they could also increase host diversity for parasites such as the winter tick, a species that can regionally impact moose (Alces alces) survival.
There’s more. I had already mentioned that these winter ticks were found in the Yukon. Published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, a study on the origins of dermacentor albipictus, showed that perhaps the tick might have hitched a ride to the Yukon.
Winter ticks (Dermacentor albipictus) on elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis) have recently increased in numbers in the Yukon, Canada, potentially posing risks to other indigenous host species in the region.
Based on our results, winter ticks on elk in the Yukon could have originated either by translocation from central Alberta or by northward range expansion of more geographically proximate populations in northern Alberta and British Columbia. Although there was some genetic structuring of winter ticks on different hosts in the same region, we found little evidence of host specificity in winter ticks from five ungulate host species, suggesting that the winter ticks on elk in the Yukon could potentially become established on other locally available host species such as moose (Alces alces).
While on the subject of referencing existing studies, consider that some scientist find that climate and weather have less effect on the growth and reduction of ticks than others believe.
With this knowledge in hand can we ask for a more definitive response to the origins of the moose tick than it’s always been around? Maybe it hasn’t always been around. Maybe it was brought into your state or region form someplace else or migrated there.
In reading all of this information, wildlife biologists, along with parasitologists should be asking whether or not it is a good and responsible practice to allow for the over protection of wild species and seek perhaps a better control over human translocation of wild and domestic animals.
Just maybe what is also being realized here are some of the effects of practicing an ignorant, romantic notion of “balance of nature” where nature magically creates a healthy ecosystem where nothing is wrong. With continued and prolonged efforts to protect wild animal species at high levels, are we not promoting the spread of disease, including winter ticks? Nature allows for regulation via disease, starvation and cannibalism. The result is scarcity which is irresponsible stewardship of wildlife and benefits no human. It is the worst of all choices.
Instead of just throwing some grant money at another study to try to find out if ticks are killing moose, why not practice some good, old-fashioned, hard work and research of the information that is available. I don’t want to have somebody else tell me ticks are killing moose. I know they are. What I’m interested in is finding out if there’s a scientific (real scientific) answer for why there appears to be more ticks and how to stop them before more devastation occurs. It seems to me that nobody has a handle on this necessary information. The only cry is about global warming. Get over it!
If there’s more ticks because there’s too many moose, the solution is simple – we need to kill more moose. If the cause is due to translocation of ticks from outside the region, then let’s stop it. Finding the truth is what’s important. Global warming theory is NOT truth. Spending money to see whether or not ticks are killing moose is akin to spending money to discover if snow is cold.