The Miniature Menace
I spent 2 weeks bed ridden in the summer of 2020. I’ve been confined to the bunk before, but only when I had appendicitis or mononucleosis, twelve years prior, was it worse than this. These weeks were not consistent but rather chopped into three-to-five-day periods with weeks of healthy living in between. The first bout came upon me in June. It was abrupt and crippling. One day I was feeling great, running miles at a time. The next I was sunken into a bed, sweating, feverish, and unable to stand up without being immediately flooded with fatigue and headache.
The flu was the best case scenario. I didn’t know much about what Covid-19 entailed, but I wasn’t having the proposed symptoms. Nevertheless, I locked myself up in my studio apartment and isolated until a negative test proved any other action to be ethical.
It wasn’t until two months later in my on and off battle with this bug (ha) that I finally decided to get checked out. The third time I fell sick was worse than the first two, and I was not getting better. I stumbled into the ER lobby at Noble Hospital in despair.
“And when did you first get sick?” the nurse asked. I answered. “And how many times?” Again I answered. “Ah. Sounds like you got Lyme.”
Although it wasn’t Lyme, it was its sister tick-borne illness, anaplasmosis, which rang positive after a couple weeks of taking the antibiotic treatment for Lyme, one I would have been advised to continue on anyhow.
Ticks suck. And even more so, I’d say, because supposedly they have some role in the ecosystem and we can’t just eradicate them with our almighty power. But ticks affect most mammals, not just evolved apes who’ve learned to separate themselves from their own primitivity.
What’s A Ghost Moose?
It’s easy to assume ticks affect us the way they do because we are not part of their natural ecosystem, as is true with poison ivy. But ticks cling onto lots of mammals, and not all of them get sick. In fact, spending the winter with thousands of ticks breeding on them is just a part of a moose’s life. Ticks use big mammals like moose as a host and home for reproduction in the cold seasons. In the fall, ticks cling onto trees and wait patiently for their anchors to amble by, fastening on at first opportunity.
Spring comes, the ticks parachute off the moose and onto the ground, lay their eggs, have a jolly summer giving Nick anaplasmosis, and then return to their tree forts to repeat the cycle. So what’s the problem?
It’s nothing new. It’s the same reality that has become increasingly evident over the years and fearsomely fought by those who have found its counter-measures to be disadvantageous. It’s global warming.
“Maine’s warm season—defined as when the daily temperature is above freezing—has increased by two weeks from the early 1900s to the 2000s and is expected only to grow, says a 2015 report,” Dell’Amore explains in her National Geographic article.
“But still? What does this have to do with anything?” you may be asking yourself, and I apologize if I’ve belabored. Let’s allow Dell’Amore to continue, “But warmer, shorter winters means those ticks are more likely to land on bare, snowless ground, which lets them live another day—and possibly flourish.” If there are too many ticks in the forest, there are too many ticks on moose. And yes, moose are dying of these demons.
The odious photos here are the result of these warmer winters, and most of this is happening in one short period of time, “Beginning early in April, pregnant females living on a moose—and most females are pregnant—take a ‘blood meal,’ sucking themselves full for days in anticipation of dropping to the ground to lay their hundreds of eggs,” explains Dobbs in his Atlantic article. Moose can only handle this loss of blood to a certain extent, and colonization of over 35,000 has been detrimental to calves.
“In the Canadian Journal of Zoology in 2018 found that from 2014 to 2016, 70 percent of moose calves in west-central Maine and northern New Hampshire died of emaciation by winter tick infestation,” Doyle covers in her AMC newsletter. Adult moose are no exemption to these minuscule menaces, and some of the numbers found on them are sobering. “The biggest number of winter ticks that Peter J. Pekins ever found on a moose was about 100,000. But that moose calf was already dead, most likely the victim of anemia, which develops when that many ticks drain a moose’s blood. So it was probably a lowball estimate, because some of the ticks had already detached,” states Pierre-Louis in the New York Times.
In response to the overwhelming number of ticks on them, moose try to scrape the insects off by rubbing on rigid surfaces like trees and rocks, often causing them to lose their coats and mimic something of the featured photo here. Let’s keep in mind that as ominous as this may seem, we are in a good seat with conservation compared to past decades. “Maine and New Hampshire had less than 50 moose in the 1970s.” But with increasing conservation efforts and game regulations, populations have restored to around 75,000 in Maine today. Still, these numbers could plummet significantly if scientists don’t step up.
As a 24-year old (I still have a hold of this one for three more weeks), I have a life ahead of me with a frightening reality: I’m going to watch the impact of global warming unfold in front of my eyes. Fifty years from now, I imagine the world will only have the faintest semblance of what we know today. The change will all boil down to one thing: our response. If it stays as pathetic and passive as is today, well—buckle up. You’re gonna need that seat belt. If polar bears riding on the brink of extinction isn’t enough to motivate governments to allocate their resources towards this problem, I don’t imagine a threat to moose will goad them either.
So, short-term solutions will have to do for now. The most interesting strategy to me is guinea fowl. This is another insect which can be released into the forest to eat ticks. An invasive species they are, however, and Maine’s department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife isn’t likely to be enthusiastic about this idea any time soon, as Doyle touches on. Also mentioned in the AMC article were notions to spray tick-infested areas with chemicals or possibly even treat moose with medication, but not much of this was elaborated on.
The safest, most effective, and commonly agreed on solution is to have a mass hunt. Kill moose to save moose. Sounds logical, no? It seems anytime I discuss animal conservation, the concept of hunting to protect populations is mentioned. “There’s evidence out there that lower moose numbers could be beneficial because if you have [fewer] moose wandering around in that area, then the winter tick isn’t just getting on a million moose and proliferating every year.” While this is a temporary solution, I can’t knock it for now. It works, and I feel content knowing moose are dying of one clean shot to the heart rather than of an excruciating, drawn-out session of torment.
I’m no hunter, and if offered to go out for an afternoon with a rifle in one hand and a Budweiser in the other, I’ll say no. I know the good hunting does, but it’s not something I would enjoy. But for those who do, grab your ticket for these hunts. We need you.
But hunting isn’t going to save the planet. I don’t want to refeed you the same cheesy platitude that’s been serenaded since we realized we’re the cause of our own doom, but for the love of it all, be on the side of action. There are few things an outdoorsman can do to sound more ignorant and cynical than to argue against climate change. We need our planet, and it needs us.
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