I read the NY Times. I don’t read it because it is left of center. I read it because it is a very interesting newspaper. I learn things from the Times I wouldn’t get anywhere else. This issue is one such thing.
Ninety percent of last year’s Maine “moose crop” died. That in itself is a tragedy. Animals mourn the death of loved ones. These babies died a slow, agonizing death. Their loss threatens the herds of “meese” so important to the upper New England environment, the economy, and the delight of any one who has stood in a bank of trees and watched a mother moose and her babe scarf up veggies from rivers and bogs or seen the majesty of a mighty male keeping a protective eye on his charges.
So what gives? What’s going up in the wilds of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine?What is taking down the babes and also some of the adults? The answer to this very big problem is a very small insect, a tick. Actually, billions of ticks, ticks that should be dead by now.
These ticks swarm to the slow moving, ungainly young. Like land-leeches they begin to suck the blood out of the host. With the blood go the nutrients. With the nutrients go the animal’s strength. With the strength goes its life, slowly, ever so slowly, but faster than the animal’s body can produce enough replacement blood. Finally, the Mooselet is too weak to take in the nourishment it needs to produce the blood. And all mama moose can do is watch. She knows something is wrong, terribly wrong, but she can’t fix it. Nuzzling, nurturing, nothing fixes it. The youngster just folds up onto the forest floor and dies. This is the stuff of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, but instead of birds or bats its ticks.
Why is last year different from all other years? Haven’t we always had ticks in those woods and in great abundance? Of course. However, with the warming climate and the last two years of ‘meh’ winters, the ticks don’t die on time. What they do is reproduce. There are more and more of them and more and more time for them to do their damage. Hopefully this year’s brutal winter up there will change things short term. But this having been the third warmest year on record in a row, it will be a short term fix unless we hire a hell-of-a-lot of forest rangers, give them millions of cans of Deep Woods Off and have them spray the flocks. Good luck with that. Ever see an irritated Moose? It’s up to 1700 lbs of “definitely get out of my face” nasty.
Lord knows an abundance of ticks is not going to wake up the world to climate change. Sometimes I wonder if flooding, the loss of land from Pacific Islands, melting glaciers creating rivers where none existed, polar bears losing the ice that is their habitat, and all that jazz will even do it.
Humans are wired with the “fight or flight” response. Because climate change isn’t one major disaster with a sign on it, we tend not to fight it or flee from it. But maybe little things like the ticks and their decimation of the Moose population, plants that bloom when you swore they never bloomed at that time in your childhood, things that die off because their genetic wiring that tells them when and where to go couldn’t be rewired as fast as climate change demanded, it will start enough mind lights going off that we’ll wake before the ticks put us to eternal rest.