US Fish and Wildlife/Hagerty Ryan
North America's moose population is plummeting and scientists are not 100% sure why.
An article in the New York Times reported that moose are dying off at 25% per year in northeast Minnesota — that's a big jump since the death rate used to hover around 8 to 12%. In the 1990s the moose population in Minnesota was around 4,000. Its now down to less than 100.
Wildlife officials have banned all moose hunting in these areas.
Scientists think multiple factors are coming together to negatively impact the population, but a common thread in all three seems to be climate change.
1. Warmer temperatures — Winters are shorter, and temperatures year-round are warmer. Moose are built for cold temperatures — they have a thick layer of hair that keeps their bodies insulated. Moose expend extra energy to cool off when temperatures rise, and if the weather warms up too much the moose may experience heat exhaustion that can kill them.
2. Ticks — Scientists have linked the shorter winters in the northeast to the rising number of winter ticks — which feed on moose blood. If one moose takes on too many ticks, it will die. The winter ticks are taking advantage of the decrease in snowfall and warmer temperatures: scientists have found up to 100,000 of these tiny parasites feeding on just one moose, according to the Natural Resources Research Institute. These animals are literally being sucked dry.
3. Beetles destroying forests — A study in Wildlife Infometrics has also linked the declining population to another pest — the pine bark beetle. These tiny beetles do well in warmer weather and are destroying forests in the northeast. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the beetles bore holes into trees to lay eggs, which stresses the tree and it eventually dies. The destruction of pine forests leaves moose exposed to predators and to hunters, and may be another factor contributing to their sharp decline.
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