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Ghost Moose

Ghost Moose
Photo Information
Copyright: Rick Price (Adanac) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1273 W: 1 N: 6188] (21378)
Genre: Animals
Medium: Color
Date Taken: 2005-04-18
Categories: Mammals
Camera: Canon EOS 300D DIGITAL, Canon 100-400/4.5-5.6L IS
Exposure: f/5.0, 1/30 seconds
More Photo Info: [view]
Photo Version: Original Version
Date Submitted: 2008-01-22 13:53
Viewed: 9901
Favorites: 1 [view]
Points: 28
[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note

By Dr Vince Crichton, Wildlife Biologist

1046 McIvor Ave. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, R2G2J9

Research into moose ticks over the last 15 years has shed new light on those “creepy-crawlies” and we now know they are the cause of the so-called “ghost moose” phenomenon.

Ghost moose appear in most jurisdictions during late winter when, due to irritation, moose rub their bodies to relieve skin irritation and in doing so break the hair shaft, exposing the white base portion of the shaft. That scratching action gives an animal a whitish-gray appearance. In worst-case scenarios, when thousands upon thousands of ticks may be found on a single animal, infestations may lead to mortality.

The tick in question are actually moose ticks Dermacentor albipictus (also called winter ticks) not the common wood tick Dermacentor variabilis. The wood tick is a two-host tick and requires two hosts to complete its lifecycle. The moose tick requires just one host. That host is usually ol’ Bullwinkle, however moose ticks also occur on caribou, elk and deer, usually in lesser numbers. It’s interesting to note that moose ticks have not been documented on Alaska moose and only on small numbers of moose in the southern Yukon.

Hair loss due to ticks commences in late January and gets progressively worse as winter proceeds. Some animals may lose up to 90 percent of their hair coat. Normally, little mortality is associated with this loss. However, in years when environmental conditions are conducive, tick levels may build to excessive numbers and the result is a moose die-off that may exceed 25 percent of the herd. For example, in Manitoba during the winter of 1987-88 about 25 percent of the Turtle and Riding Mountain herds died and ticks played a major role in that mortality.

Tick abundance and the problems associated with them vary from year to year, an event that’s directly related to environmental conditions. Male and female ticks infest moose, but males fall off and die shortly after completing the mating act. Female ticks enjoy a winter blood meal, then fall to the ground in late March and April. If they come to rest on snow, there is a high tick mortality. However, when spring weather is warm and the snow disappears early, female ticks fall onto warm ground and lay a few thousand eggs. The eggs hatch into seed ticks in early August and as the cool days of fall approach they become more active and ascend grasses and other vegetation. When moose brush against vegetation, larval ticks attach to the big animals and an over-winter, development period commences. Ticks like to nestle in a moose’s thick hair (away from the cold) and do so until spring, feeding and maturing the entire time. The peak of transmission during fall takes place in October, after which cold weather puts an end to those little rust-colored devils, which measure about the size of a pinhead. When fall weather conditions are summer-like (i.e. warm and no snow) the transmission period can extend into November. Therefore with warm springs and open falls, conditions are excellent for ticks and we can be sure that the following spring there will be many reports of “ghost moose.” Think of it this way: springs with snow in April are good for moose and spring skiing!

When conditions are prime for ticks, they can attach to moose in staggering numbers, as indicated by current study of Manitoba’s herd. Prior to the 1988-89 winter actual tick counts were never conducted in Manitoba. However, since that time, due to the interest of Dr. Bill Samuel from the University of Alberta, we have counted ticks on 20 moose hides. The average number found on adult males is 29,464. Adult females carried 39,675 and calves were afflicted by 52,993 ticks. The greatest number found on any of the hides was 97,704 from a bull taken west of The Pas in northwestern Manitoba. It is the writer’s opinion, that moose can have tick loads approaching 200,000. It is interesting to note that Dr. Samuel has counted 420,00 ticks on a caribou from Alberta.

Calves are especially hard hit by ticks and most moose found dead due to tick infestations are young calves born the previous spring. Dr. Samuel suggests that tick loads of 40,000 or 50,000 may cause harm to animals, obviously as a discomfort, but in other ways, too. For instance, “ticky moose” spend a significant portion of their time scratching, shaking and rubbing to rid themselves of those little demons. That effort results in loss of hair in large patches, which changes the lower critical temperature where a moose can survive from minus-35 degrees Celsius to five-degrees Celsius. Moose that harbor hides in poor condition may suffer from rain and wind, which results in hypothermia and, eventually, a dead moose.

In some animals a borderline anemia may result from ticks, which suggests that the animal's basic physiology is affected. Experimental animals infected with ticks are unable to maintain weight, even when fed respectable diets. They perform poorly when compared to control animals with no ticks. Moose infected with ticks may survive the spring period only to die later on in the summer from infections, such as pneumonia, contracted when an animal was in a weakened condition.

Moose may be their own worst enemies when it comes to accommodating ticks; research shows that some moose have traditional spring and fall bedding sites and they are one and the same. Those dry, grassy “bedding” areas are the very places that seed ticks thrive, especially during years of average moisture conditions throughout the summer. If a moose sheds 25-to-30 engorged female ticks every time it beds down in the spring be sure there will be plenty of ticks waiting in the fall. At about 7,000 eggs per female tick, there is the potential of nearly 200,000 ticks for every 25-to-30 that drop off and survive. When a moose returns to the area during fall and beds, it will likely endure a heavy tick infection.

While tick infestations will continue to haunt moose in future years and cause some mortality, look at the bright side – moose watchers will continue to hiss, “ghost moose,” when one of those albino-like animals steps out of the deep woods and biologists assure that ticks pose no threat to the edibility of moose meat. Hunters may breathe a collective sigh of relief.

vanderschelden, eqshannon, CeltickRanger, jaycee, Evelynn, Jamesp, pvs, joey, marhowie, NinaM has marked this note useful
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Critiques [Translate]

Hi Rick,
You can't say there is no note:-).
Good sharp 'funny face' photographed in its habitat.
Well done

A fine job if imaging..When I look at this shot and how you did it I think about my physical disabilities..Pain and numbness..unsteadiness..and that is on cement..but get me into the woods and I need an MD to hold me up..so after that then I have to find this moose and try to manipulate myself to capture it without thinking about pain and somehow remember to have my settings all done in advance in order that I only have 3-4 things to change at the last minute...wheeew..What a shot..you make it look like slicing warm butter with a bread knife..

Hello Rick,
Very informative note, next time I turn white I'll have to see if I have a thousand ticks stuck to my body, or is that for only Moose? Anyway great shot showing what it actually looks like.
Now I'm afraid to go into the woods, I dont think I could bare comming face to face with the 'Ghost Moose!' Eeeeeeeeek! :)

hello Rick

the ghost moose photographed in his natural habitat,
in french thay say « photo prise sur le vif »
i don't kno what is the transaltion,
what is the equivalent phrase in english
this is a great photo « prise sur le vif »



This is a really well executed shot Rick... perfect focus, exposure and color. It is an agonizing tale though. What misery these poor creatures have to try to endure.

I've been really busy on a project and am behind on critiques and posts. I'll try to check out what I've missed soon... I hope.

Evelynn : )

That's a really nice shot. I like the balance of the whole picture being filled with branches.

  • Great 
  • Jamesp Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1369 W: 9 N: 6334] (18906)
  • [2008-01-22 22:05]

Hi Rick

Really interesting note. A great capture - I love the long head. Good habitat shot too.


  • Great 
  • pvs Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1127 W: 254 N: 3161] (14464)
  • [2008-01-23 0:20]

Hi Rick,

An excellent capture with again a great note,I have never seen a moose with this kind of infestations,but I am shore this could be here as well,tfs


  • Great 
  • joey Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1739 W: 224 N: 6872] (24909)
  • [2008-01-23 2:18]

Excellent note that completely explains this Moose's "ghostly" appearance. Imagine having 420,000 tics on you! We get horrified if we find one on us!
This is a great shot of this Ghost Moose.
We can clearly see the bare patches in its fur.
Sharp with good detail and clarity.
Well composed with a good POV.
Well done Rick :)

Hello Rick,

Nice composition. Good POV and sharpness. Lovely natural colours. Very interesting note also.
Thanks for sharing,

  • Great 
  • jaycee Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2454 W: 10 N: 8044] (25460)
  • [2008-01-23 7:23]

Hi Rick,

Not only a wonderful picture but excellent informative notes. I've heard of deer ticks but not those that attack the moose. Very nice natural colors and good details. Looks great in his natural habitat.


  • Great 
  • NinaM Gold Star Critiquer [C: 773 W: 3 N: 1157] (4077)
  • [2008-01-23 8:40]

Learning from nature through photography, that is just what you did for me with this one. Great notes and what a nice picture! The fur of the moose looks almost like the twigs surrounding him. They are majestic animals, I wish I could see one too! For that, I would have to push myself and get in the wood! Thank you so much Rick,


Hi Rick,
Encore une belle chasse ave ta cam heureusement que c'est une camet non une carabine.

  • Great 
  • arfer Gold Star Critiquer [C: 2731 W: 0 N: 0] (0)
  • [2008-01-24 8:48]

Hello Rick

Another good close up shot of a moose.Great informative notes.I have never seen this condition in moose,but I have seen something similar in deer.
Lovely eye contact,with excellent detail.You have captured an alert pose.


The beautiful photo becomes even stronger when realizing this animal suffering so enormously by the ticks! Taht's how photography should be,I think, a testimony. Thanks, CarOze

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