The Atlantic

Climate Change Enters Its Blood-Sucking Phase

As winters grow warmer in North America, thirsty ticks are on the move.
Source: Jonathan Bartlett

We found the moose calf half an hour in. He lay atop thin snow on a gentle slope sheltered by the boughs of a big, black spruce, curled up as a dog would on a couch. He had turned his long, gaunt head to rest against his side and closed his eyes. He might have been sleeping. The day before, April 17, 2018, when the GPS tracker on the moose’s collar stopped moving for six hours, this stillness had caused both an email and a text to alert Jake Debow, a Vermont state field biologist who stood next to me now with Josh Blouin, another state biologist, that moose No. 75 had either shucked his collar or died.

“You want pictures before we start?” Debow asked me. He’s the senior of the two young biologists, both still in grad school, both in their late 20s, young and strong and funny, from families long in the north country, both drawn to the job by a love of hunting and being outside. Debow had always wanted to be a game warden; in college, he “fell in love with the science.” His Vermont roots go back 10 generations. “Jake Debow,” Josh told me, “is about as Vermont as you can get.” It was Debow’s second season on the moose project, and Blouin’s first. This was the sixth calf, of 30 collared, that they’d found sucked to death by ticks this season. They were here to necropsy the carcass, send the tissues to a veterinary pathology lab in New Hampshire, and try to figure out as much as possible about how and why these calves were dying.

First, they weighed him. To the trunk of the big spruce they strapped a custom-made scale—a steel ell with three pulleys and a thick rope to which they hooked a spring scale. They wrestled the moose onto a heavy net, collected the net’s four corners, and with the triple-pulley system and considerable effort, hoisted him off the ground. “Any guesses?” Debow asked after they’d secured the rope. The moose swung slowly just above the snow. I asked what this ten-month-old calf would have weighed if healthy: about 400 pounds. Blouin guessed 286. Debow said 312. I said 299. Debow looked at the scale. “Two-seventy. Lightest one yet.” The ticks had taken a third of this animal’s weight.

They gently lowered the calf to the ground and pulled him from the net. Debow took a six-inch steel ruler from his jacket pocket, kneeled behind the moose’s shoulder, and, with his hands, parted the fur and held it down, as one might hold a stiff-spined book to spread its pages, to expose a narrow, tick-width channel of skin some six inches long. Rather, he exposed not the moose’s skin, but some 50 ticks that completely obscured it. A few were male moose ticks, which sport a jagged fan pattern of tan and

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