Ghost moose

We had an unusual visitor yesterday; a young moose that has been hanging around our neighbourhood for the past few days munching on the plant life.

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Yes, I was actually that close to him! When I first realized that he was there, he was standing just outside our front door snacking on my rose bush.

A rather scraggly looking character, he is what is known as a ghost moose. Infested and irritated by ticks, he has rubbed off most of his dark brown hair, exposing his pale undercoat.

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Though I’ve never seen one before, apparently ghost moose are becoming more and more common and are most often spotted in March and April. Biologists blame climate change for ushering in shorter, warmer winters that are conducive to increased tick populations. The tick’s life cycle begins in late fall. Larva cling to plants and climb aboard unsuspecting moose that brush against them, feasting on their warm bodies over the winter months until early spring when they generally drop off and lay their eggs to begin the cycle over again.

A single moose can be host to a staggering number of ticks. I’ve read numbers upwards of 50 000! Thousands of feeding ticks can actually kill a moose! Calves, like this one, are particularly vulnerable. Loss of blood leaves them weak and easy prey for predators. Scratching off large patches of their thick outer coat in an attempt to remove the ticks leads to the loss of body heat and even hypothermia. Some spend more time scratching than foraging for food. Skinny and malnourished, they eventually die of starvation.

Considering that our young visitor has made it through our cold winter and seems to be eating well, I’m hopeful that he will survive, but I also have other concerns for his well-being. He is obviously one of last year’s calves. As such, he’s still a bit young to be wandering about on his own. Moose calves usually stay with their mothers for about a year and a half.

The fact that he’s spending so much time in town is also a major concern. It’s not unusual for us to see a mother moose and her calves in the yard during the winter, especially at night, but they are usually easily spooked, retreating to the trees on the edge of town when startled. This little guy is much too bold. He continued to nonchalantly trim the lower branches of our weeping birch while vehicles passed by just a few feet away. Even a neighbour in a noisy truck stopping to take pictures didn’t deter him.

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Not only is becoming semi domesticated not good for him, but as cute as he is (in his own scraggly way), he poses a danger to people. He’s already big enough to cause serious damage and  if he survives, he’s going to get a LOT bigger. A full grown bull moose can reach a height of up to 2.15 m (7.1 feet) at the shoulder and weigh between 500 and 725 kg (1,102 and 1,598 pounds)!

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2 thoughts on “Ghost moose

  1. There are so many consequences of climate change – both very visible, like your moose, and harder to see, like subtle changes to the biology of an area. Of course, those subtle changes will become more and more apparent over time. I hope the moose is able to survive and thrive despite his ticks (that must feel awful, poor guy).

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