Moose Hair Loss Study

by Emily Chenery | Nov 13, 2023 | Elk, Moose, Research | 0 comments

This article was originally published in The Preserve Post newsletter in Spring 2019. In April 2022 Emily et al., published a paper Improving Widescale Monitoring of Ectoparasite Presence in Northern Canadian Wildlife with the Aid of Citizen Science on this project.
10 minute read – 

Ever had an itch you just can’t scratch? For moose and other large deer species, winter ticks are an annual burden. These blood-feeding parasites live for only one year and spend almost their whole life on the same host. Moose are often the worst affected – and although a few ticks on an individual is no big deal, winter tick numbers can sometimes reach 50,000-100,000 ticks per animal. These severely infested moose just keep scratching, trying to rid themselves of the parasites, and may lose large amounts of blood, valuable time feeding, and significant amounts of hair. The distinct patterns of tick-induced hair loss are most noticeable on moose from March to May when the ticks are at their largest, and is a key indicator that winter ticks are present in a region. Hair loss can range from very mild, with just a few patches on the shoulders and neck, to extremely severe or “ghost moose”, which have damaged or missing hair over more than 80% of their body.


The Yukon Winter Tick Monitoring Project is a collaboration between Environment Yukon and researchers at the University of Toronto. Its aim is to find out where in Yukon winter ticks are now, and where they could be in future, given the effects of climate change. Until recently, there were no winter ticks found in Yukon. Early reports began in the 1990s, and although relatively low numbers of them have been found to date, little is known about their distribution and effect on native Yukon species. Changing environmental and climate conditions play an important role in the winter tick-host relationship, with warmer, wetter seasons and shorter winters known to increase tick survival. Finding new methods of detecting winter ticks and their impact on hosts is important for us to understand how and when management could be needed.
To help with this research, the moose at the Preserve have been having their photograph taken more than usual! Moose, like many other mammals, shed their heavier winter coat each year, resulting in a natural pattern of hair loss. To better understand what a healthy, tick-free Yukon moose looks like over the winter and into spring, two high-resolution
wildlife cameras were installed in the moose enclosure in December 2018. These cameras automatically take a photograph every time a moose walks past, and will continue to capture thousands of images each month until May.
The resulting catalogue of monthly moose hair shedding patterns will form a critical baseline from which to compare images of wild moose, photographed by additional remote cameras that have been set up throughout southern Yukon. This work will allow us to examine the current effects of winter ticks in this region and will additionally form an important part of a larger
scale study that looks at winter tick spread under climate change throughout North America.
Interested in Contributing?
If you see a moose or other animal with patchy hair, you can help to inform this research by submitting a  photograph directly to Emily (, online through the Yukon Winter Tick Monitoring Project Facebook page, or citizen science app iNaturalist. Sightings can also be reported directly to
Environment Yukon’s Animal Health Unit in Whitehorse. Yukon Winter Tick Monitoring Project.
Emily Chenery

Emily Chenery

Guest Researcher / Author

Emily Chenery is a PhD student at the University of Toronto Scarborough studying the range expansion of winter ticks into Yukon. This project at Yukon Wildlife Preserve is being assisted by BSc student Maegan McCaw (University of Alberta), and funded by EC’s W. Garfield Weston Fellowship from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada, with additional support from Environment Yukon’s Animal Health Unit.

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