Input sought on moose winter tick survey

Live Moose with White legs Ð photo credit Roy Rea (near Prince George)
Moose with white legs near Prince George. Roy Rea photo

The BC Wildlife Health Program is again asking for help assessing the effects of winter ticks on the province’s moose population as part of its annual moose winter tick surveillance program.

The program relies on observations from wildlife professionals, wildlife enthusiasts and the general public to:

* monitor the number of animals with hair loss;

* assess the amount of hair loss on each animal; and

* estimate the overall prevalence and distribution of winter ticks.

Tick infestations can, at times, result in severe behavioural and physiological changes and directly affect the survival rates of moose, especially in younger animals. Winter ticks can have a significant impact on moose populations when climate and habitat conditions promote high tick numbers.

Winter tick infestations are generally observed on moose during January through April. This species of tick goes through three life stages over the winter on one host. There can be as many as tens of thousands on an individual moose. As the ticks mature, they feed on the blood of the animal and can cause anaemia. In late winter, tick irritation can cause moose to excessively scratch and groom themselves, resulting in hair loss and less time spent foraging, which can lead to weight loss. The extent of hair loss on a moose can be observed easily from a distance and is a rough indicator of how many ticks are present.

Anyone interested in contributing to this surveillance program can fill out a survey online. Alternatively, the electronic survey can be saved and completed on a computer, tablet or mobile device and returned via email to: FLNRMooseTickSurvey@gov.bc.ca(mailto:FLNRMooseTickSurvey@gov.bc.ca)

An online survey, downloadable survey forms and background information are available on the moose winter tick program page: www.gov.bc.ca/wildlifehealth/mooseticksurvey

Participants are asked to observe and report the amount of hair loss, if any, occurring on moose and check the survey box that most accurately describes the animal’s appearance. There are five categories, ranging from “no hair loss” to “more than 80% loss of winter hair.”

The findings of the surveillance program will contribute to the Provincial Moose Research Program, which was initiated in 2013 to investigate factors influencing moose populations in British Columbia.

For more information, email: FLNRMooseTickSurvey@gov.bc.ca(mailto:FLNRMooseTickSurvey@gov.bc.ca)

Quick Facts:

* Winter ticks pose no health risk to humans.

* Unlike the 32 other species of ticks found in Canada, the winter tick spends its entire life cycle on a single host, while the others require different hosts for the larval, nymph and adult stages.

* Adult female ticks may grow from 6.5 millimetres to nearly 15 mm in length.

* There are between 120,000 and 200,000 moose in B.C.