The B.C. Wildlife Health Program is once again asking members of the public 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 and the amount of hair loss on each animal to estimate winter tick prevalence and distribution.
Winter tick infestations are generally observed on moose from January through April. Tick infestations can sometimes result in severe behavioural and physiological changes and directly impact the survival rates of moose, especially in younger animals.
Winter ticks (Dermacentor albipictus) can have a significant impact on moose populations when climate and habitat conditions promote high tick numbers. This species of tick goes through three life stages over the winter on one host and 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 scratch and groom themselves excessively. This behaviour results 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.
The findings of the surveillance program will contribute to the Provincial Moose Research Program, which was launched in 2013 to investigate factors influencing moose populations in B.C. 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.
Anyone interested in contributing to this surveillance program can fill out a survey online or, alternatively, the electronic survey can be saved and completed on your computer, tablet or mobile device and returned via email to: FLNRMooseTickSurvey@gov.bc.ca
An online survey, downloadable survey forms and background information can be found on the moose winter tick program page at: www.gov.bc.ca/wildlifehealth/mooseticksurvey
For more information, email: FLNRMooseTickSurvey@gov.bc.ca