It’s only a few weeks until the end of summer, a terrible time to be a moose in the New Hampshire wild.
Tens of millions of winter ticks are preparing to hatch next month from eggs hidden in thick brush. They will wait there to hitch a ride on a moose and suck its blood until the end of May.
They can send a moose to its death, with up to 150,000 dining on every calf, cow and bull in certain parts of the Granite State, wildlife biologists estimate.
There was a time when eggs laid in this age-old cycle perished on winter snow. But that hasn’t happened lately in New Hampshire, where a warming trend has winters starting later and ending sooner.
A single female lays 3,000 eggs the size of salt crystals. With warmer weather, ticks don’t die, they multiply.
Winter ticks are one-host parasites that feed on a single animal through their lifetimes. As the number of ticks explodes, moose have disappeared by the thousands in areas where they were most abundant. Many of those still alive are eerily thin, with rib cages visible through ragged skin. They are mere shadows of themselves, zombies with antlers.
"It’s pretty depressing," said Kristine Rines, a wildlife biologist and moose project leader for the state’s Fish and Game Department. "It’s a pretty tough way to go. There’s no question that climate plays a huge part in this. If we had winters that lasted as long as they used to, we might not be having this conversation."
New Hampshire’s struggle with moose is part of a nationwide trend, according to the Wildlife Management Institute, a nonprofit group established by sportsmen and businessmen concerned about wild populations.
Warmer, shorter winters in the north no longer killing as many pests, like ticks. More ticks = devastated mammal populations.