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Horrifying Potential Culprit Found Behind Dwindling North American Moose Populations: It's Spread by Flies

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The decline in the U.S. moose population in recent years may have less to do with man-made causes and more to do with Mother Nature than previously thought, according to a recent study.

Research published in March in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases found a parasitic worm, Elaeophora schneideri, in half of the dead adult Shiras moose studied in southeastern Idaho, although it wasn’t found in any of the moose bodies investigated in the northern part of the state.

The parasite, which can grow to 4 inches when fully mature, is generally passed to moose by tabanid flies, according to Newsweek.

None of the 20 juvenile moose had contracted the parasite, according to the study, which was conducted between March 2020 and July 2022.

Newsweek suggested that some of the decline in moose population could be attributed to “hunting and habitat decline,” though it should be noted that none of the three species of moose found in America appears on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s list of 1,499 threatened or endangered animals.

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According to Newsweek, the parasitic worm infects the animals’ brains and can lead to “severe symptoms.”

“The parasite can severely disrupt a moose’s circulation system, leading to blindness, ear damage and often death,” the outlet reported.

The study found that of the 10 moose infected with the parasite, nine had “microfilariae, the early life stage of the parasite, throughout their brains,” according to Newsweek.

The parasites were also found throughout the moose’s major arteries in adult form.

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Moreover, three of the infected animals exhibited some sort of ear damage, while four displayed “abnormal behavior” prior to their deaths, likely because of the presence of the parasites in their nervous system.

“The microfilaria are just scattered throughout their brains, and even though the damage from each is miniscule [sic], they’re basically shot-gunning the whole brain,” pathologist Kyle Taylor of Washington State University’s Animal Disease Diagnostics Laboratory told Newsweek.

“We hypothesize the cumulative effects of large numbers of microfilariae in the brain may be associated with increased morbidity or chance of mortality, with mortality more likely in cases with larger numbers of worms,” Taylor explained.

Researchers believe that as the parasitic worms cause brain damage, moose become more vulnerable to both other health issues and predators.

“We really need to have an understanding of all the issues related to moose population decline, and this parasite appears to be a factor,” Taylor said.

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Mule deer and black-tailed deer, on the other hand, can carry the parasite without serious harm, according to Newsweek.

Currently, no tests exist to determine whether a live moose is infected by Elaeophora schneideri, so identification of infected specimens is only possibly postmortem.

“The study also explored the geographic spread of E. schneideri in Idaho,” according to Science Daily. “The parasite was found to be widespread in southeastern Idaho, aligning with its prevalence in neighboring regions of Montana and Wyoming. The distribution coincides with populations of mule deer.”

The was part of a “three-year collaborative project on moose mortality” between Idaho Fish and Game and Dr. Janet Rachlow of the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources, the outlet reported.


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George Upper is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Western Journal and was a weekly co-host of "WJ Live," powered by The Western Journal. He is currently a contributing editor in the areas of faith, politics and culture. A former U.S. Army special operator, teacher and consultant, he is a lifetime member of the NRA and an active volunteer leader in his church. Born in Foxborough, Massachusetts, he has lived most of his life in central North Carolina.
George Upper, is the former editor-in-chief of The Western Journal and is now a contributing editor in the areas of faith, politics and culture. He currently serves as the connections pastor at Awestruck Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a former U.S. Army special operator, teacher, manager and consultant. Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Foxborough High School before joining the Army and spending most of the next three years at Fort Bragg. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in English as well as a Master's in Business Administration, all from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He and his wife life only a short drive from his three children, their spouses and his grandchildren. He is a lifetime member of the NRA and in his spare time he shoots, reads a lot of Lawrence Block and John D. MacDonald, and watches Bruce Campbell movies. He is a fan of individual freedom, Tommy Bahama, fine-point G-2 pens and the Oxford comma.
Birthplace
Foxborough, Massachusetts
Nationality
American
Honors/Awards
Beta Gamma Sigma
Education
B.A., English, UNCG; M.A., English, UNCG; MBA, UNCG
Location
North Carolina
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Business, Leadership and Management, Military, Politics




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