That greying moose you see may be tick-infested

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The graying look of moose you might see in the field this spring isn’t the result of old age.

It’s likely the work of blood-sucking ticks.

The Coeur d’Alene office of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has received several calls recently from wildlife watchers concerned about odd-looking moose around towns as well as in wild places.

“The moose appear to be partially white, or, as one caller described, ‘ghost-like’ in appearance,” said Phil Cooper, department conservation educator.

“Moose can experience tick infestations that start in mid-September but the problem is not clearly visible to people until late in the following winter.

The ticks are called “moose ticks” or “winter ticks.” They are not attracted to humans.

“The infestations become visible when moose scratch and paw at their own skin enough to cause large patches of hair to break or fall out,” Cooper said. “That is when IDFG begins to get reports of sick-looking moose.

“Many times these patches are on the withers where moose are able to reach and scratch with their hooves. The skin exposed by the hair loss is light colored and from a distance the exposed skin makes the moose appear to be white in color.

Last winter, Hans Krauss, a Spokane Valley wildlife enthusiast and photographer, shot photos of a bull moose in the Ponderosa neighborhood.

What first caught his eye are the bases of where antlers had fallen off, and where the new antler growth soon will be sprouting.

Then he realized, “That poor bugger is infested with ticks.”

The grayish look and the hair rubbed off in patches including the ears were obvious clues while the engorged ticks on the moose’s rump were graphic.

Krauss’s photo was forwarded to Kristen Mansfield, the state’s wildlife veterinarian with the questions: “I wonder if this amount of grey color is shedding, old age, ticks, normal end of winter condition, or other?

Mansfield said, “The whitish-grayish coloring of the legs is normal.

“The thin hair and whitish-grayish coloring in the saddle area, neck, and rump are where he’s been scratching at winter ticks. You can even see several ticks in his perineal area.

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