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Thousands of blood-sucking ticks found on bodies of Canadian moose – CBC.ca

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This story is part of a CBC News series entitled In Our Backyard, which looks at the effects climate change is having in Canada, from extreme weather events to how it’s reshaping our economy.


Flying over southern New Brunswick in a helicopter, it doesn’t take long to spot moose running through the snow in the forest beneath. What isn’t visible from the air are the thousands of ticks invading their bodies.

In nearby New Hampshire and Maine, over a three-year period, scientists found an alarming 70 per cent of calves didn’t make it through their first winter due in large part to tick infestation, according to a study in the Canadian Journal of Zoology. In some cases up to 80,000 ticks were found on a single moose.

Scientists count the number of ticks on a 10-centimetre patch of the moose’s skin. They estimate there are thousands on its entire body. In some cases up to 80,000 ticks have been found on a single moose. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

Researchers from the universities of New Brunswick and Laval are now studying how ticks survive in the differing climates of New Brunswick and Quebec and how that affects moose. Their data show moose populations in both provinces have been healthy and growing over the past three decades, but wildlife biologist Serge Couturier says warmer winters and less snow cover make it easier for ticks to survive.

“Global warming is likely increasing their abundance,” he said in an interview in the woods near Tracy, N.B. “The northern limit is moving north and north and north.” 

An aerial view of southern New Brunswick, near Tracy. Scientists believe warmer winters and less snow cover are increasing the abundance of winter ticks in Canada. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

External parasites

Ticks are an external parasite. They feed on the animal’s blood, staying on their skin for the fall and winter, until they drop off to lay their eggs on vegetation. These ticks do not pose any health risks to humans.   

Scientists in southern New Brunswick measure a moose and count the ticks on its body. They’re studying how ticks survive in the climates of New Brunswick and Quebec and how that affects moose. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Jean-Pierre Tremblay, a professor in the department of biology at Laval University in Quebec City and principal investigator on the moose research project, says unlike other species, such as white-tailed deer, moose tolerate the ticks until it’s too late. Many moose end up weak with anemia. 

He says their skin also becomes inflamed and they change their behaviour, spending more time grooming, rubbing against trees until their fur comes off and less time eating.   

“That’s a critical time of year, at the end of winter, when they have used most of their fat reserve, especially for calves,” said Tremblay.

When infested with ticks, moose eventually rub against trees so hard they lose their fur. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

Trapping a moose

When the team spotted a moose from the air, Couturier shot a net from the helicopter to trap the animal, a technique he says is “very efficient, very safe” for the animals.

On the ground, a veterinarian was on hand to sedate the animal, monitor her breathing and temperature and generally keep her comfortable. 

“She’s not really anesthetized, just sedated,” said Dr. Benjamin Lamglait, after he had injected a 172-kilogram female calf. “We want her to be calm.” 

The moose laid on the ground in the snow, her tongue lolling out of her mouth, a mask over her eyes, also to keep her calm. 

A veterinarian is on hand to sedate the animal, monitor her breathing and temperature and generally keep her comfortable while researchers conduct their work. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

When the scientists pulled open her fur, they revealed dozens of ticks attached to a tiny patch of the animal’s skin, literally sucking the life out of it. They estimated there were many thousands on her entire body. 

When the team finished working on the moose they captured, the vet administered a reversal injection and within three minutes the animal woke up and walked away. 

The team is in the process of weighing, measuring and tagging 116 moose with GPS collars in New Brunswick and Quebec. Half of them will be treated with a pesticide used to kill ticks and half won’t. This will help them determine whether the moose are dying from ticks or some other factor. 

“Our GPS collars, we can control them remotely so we can get a location once every hour, or once every several hours,” said UNB master of science student Douglas Munn, who along with the other New Brunswick researchers is based in Fredericton. 

Munn explained that the collars also track the animal’s activity in 15-minute increments, which he says allows him to determine whether heavily parasitized moose differ in how they move and select habitats.

Before the scientists leave the moose in the woods, they inject it with a drug to reverse the sedative and ensure the animal has walked away on its own. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

Future forest management

J.D. Irving Woodlands Division is one of 16 partners on the project, including Parks Canada, the Government of Quebec and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. 

Andrew Willett, director of research for J.D. Irving, says the company needs to understand how climate change is affecting the wildlife on its lands so that it can understand how the habitat is changing in order to potentially adapt its forest management.  

“We’re planting a tree today, we’re going to harvest it in 40 years’ time,” he said. “The climate is going to be completely different in 40 years than it is today.”

Researchers say their work to measure and tag 116 moose in New Brunswick and Quebec is important in part because the moose is such an emblematic animal in Canada. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

The scientists say the work is important in part because the moose is such an emblematic animal in Canada. 

“They’re an important game species,” said Munn. “But also because they’re valued spiritually by First Nations and Native Americans in the United States and Canada, and also because of their role in ecological systems.”

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Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – News Talk 650 CKOM

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Fresh ferns, loaded with spores, lightly dusted with leaves and twigs and perfectly seasoned with locally sourced charcoal.

Sound good? It did to an ankylosaur about 110 million years ago, as evidenced by amazingly complete fossils of what was certainly the tank-like dinosaur’s last meal.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Caleb Brown, a curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and co-author of a paper published Tuesday on what is one of probably only three fossilized dinosaur stomachs discovered.

“We can start recontructing the life histories and ecologies of these animals.”

The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterward.

It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.

It then took 5 1/2 years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.  

But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”

It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.

“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.

The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.  

“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.

There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.

About 80 per cent of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.

There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.

Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.

That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.

“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”

Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?

The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.

“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.

More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.

“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said. 

The fossils tell individual stories, too.

Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.

“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020

— Follow at @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – The Observer

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Fresh ferns, loaded with spores, lightly dusted with leaves and twigs and perfectly seasoned with locally sourced charcoal.

Sound good? It did to an ankylosaur about 110 million years ago, as evidenced by amazingly complete fossils of what was certainly the tank-like dinosaur’s last meal.

article continues below

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Caleb Brown, a curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and co-author of a paper published Tuesday on what is one of probably only three fossilized dinosaur stomachs discovered.

“We can start recontructing the life histories and ecologies of these animals.”

The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterward.

It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.

It then took 5 1/2 years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.

But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”

It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.

“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.

The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.

“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.

There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.

About 80 per cent of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.

There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.

Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.

That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.

“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”

Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?

The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.

“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.

More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.

“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said.

The fossils tell individual stories, too.

Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.

“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020

— Follow at @row1960 on Twitter

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