Moose Mortalities Providing Clues About Moose Survival

By Scott McClellan, IFW Wildlife Biologist

Biologist Scott McLellan counts ticks during a moose necropsy. The tick counts provide insight into factors that impact Maine's moose population.

Biologist Scott McLellan counts ticks during a moose necropsy. The tick counts provide insight into factors that impact Maine’s moose population.

In 2014, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) initiated a moose survival study in Wildlife Management District 8 that involves the capture, radio-collaring, and subsequent tracking of these study animals to learn more about their behavior, reproduction, landscape use, and survivability.  The moose study was expanded to include WMD 2 this year, and now includes nearly 150 radio-collared moose.

Maine has more moose than any other state in the continental US. In order to manage moose in Maine, it is important to understand how many moose there are in the state, how many moose are being born into the population, and how many moose are dying every year.  In addition, it is important to know what is causing the moose to die and whether there is anything that can be done about it.

We have learned that March and April are the critical months for the survivability of moose. These are the months when the majority of moose die, especially young-of-the-year calves (that are about 10-11 months of age during these 2 months) that were born the previous year.  IFW has recently investigated several calf mortalities where biologists collected biological data that includes external examination of animal, tick counts, organ sampling, and fecal collection.

This radio-collared moose didn't survive the winter. A field necropsy of the moose provides clues as to why this moose didn't survive.

This radio-collared moose didn’t survive the winter. A field necropsy of the moose provides clues as to why this moose didn’t survive.

Once the data and samples are collected, they are transported to the diagnostic laboratory at the University of Maine for further analysis.  All of this work requires a dedicated team of people to ensure that all of the data, from start to finish, is collected in a scientific, meaningful manner.  The accompanying pictures illustrate biologists collecting information at a recent necropsy.

This is year three of the five year study. The first two years of the study were during severe winters, which are in contrast to this year’s comparatively mild winter. Over the next few years, analyzing and understanding the biological data will be instrumental in managing Maine’s moose population into the future.

Biologists collect samples from different internal organs that are later examined at the UMaine Research Lab.

Biologists collect samples from different internal organs that are later examined at the UMaine Research Lab.

Posted in Wildlife


  1. Ray Hamilton says:

    You guys are a little late to the party! We are being told the herd is fine. Anyone who spends time in the woods knows better!

    1. Paul Harrison says:

      I’ in Law Enforcement and we had car / moose accident in Mechanic Falls. The moose was shot due to two broken legs. The animal was covered with ticks and it looked like it had the mange because it had rubbed a lot of hair off. In the bare spots were a sickening amount ticks. The tail on this moose was missing even the bone was gone and around the anus was an infestation of ticks that was about as big around as a 1/2 gal milk jug. This is in Androscoggin County I thought this only happened in the northern counties due to winter ticks

  2. Glenn Hanna says:

    I found 2 dead moose last year up in zone 4 will looking for horns last year. Should I have reported this?

  3. Nadia Nichols says:

    Be curious to know if these calves were still with their mothers at the time of death or if they had lost their mother during the fall hunt. If a calf was collared, I’m assuming the cow accompanying it was collared at the same time, or the biologist who put the collar on the calf was one courageous individual.

  4. Robert DuHadaway says:

    I find this article very interesting. I personally have hunted Maine for forty years. The state does a great job with the black bear and now the moose. I hope in the further that they take a hard look at the deer population.

    Thank you
    Bwana bob

  5. Scott says:

    keep up the good work… i would love to read some of your conclusions… when you have some real data on why ticks are on the increase and if there are any options to helping out the moose populations where they have been affected .

  6. Gregory Rivers says:

    I really enjoy the E:mails That provide information on how we (the state of Maine) are doing in taking care of our wildlife. It keeps everyone up to date on how things are going. Thanks!!!!

  7. Chuck Jerram says:

    Keep up the great work guys!! We all love seeing the moose in good health!

  8. Don Bilodeau says:

    In my experiences hunting ticks leave the animal as soon as the body cools off. I have seen this several times with coyotes. How do you gather tick info on an already dead moose? If ticks are the issue, are there any options to reduce the problem?
    We spend quite a bit of time camping, fishing, ATVing and snowmobiling in the Rangeley area. We especially like looking for moose. The past couple of years it has been very evident that the moose population there has seriously declined. As a whole, is the state population still on the increase or is it in decline?

  9. Bryan Eastman says:

    Very interesting. Maine does more wildlife research than any other state. IFW does a great job and should be comended for thier efforts!

  10. Thank’s for all that you do to manage our Moose population.

  11. Gunnar Gundersen says:

    looks like you guys are doing a good job. It will be interesting to see all of the results.
    Keep up the good work.

  12. otis magoun says:

    Thank you for this report. I am very interested in keeping Maine’s moose population abundant and healthy. I appreciate all the work you all do to make this possible.

  13. Mr A.Howe says:

    My family and I have been visiting the Rockwood Maine area for the last thirteen years at various time of the year and noticed a decline in sightings over the last 3 to 5 years. As a sportsman I appreciate the effort by Maine Fish & Game to find answers and hopefully find solutions. The family and I enjoy watching these creatures & other wildlife it would be terrible to lose them. Also, we love watching North Woods Law, its educational & gives us good insight on the do’s & don’ts about wildlife. Keep up the great work.

  14. Ben Bailey says:

    I was disappointed that the article did not live up to the headline. No information about the clues to moose mortality were mentioned. No statistics from the previous three years. Have more or fewer moose died? Something? Its great to know the study is being conducted, but let us have some information about the data so far. Thanks!

  15. Tami-Jo Casper-Andrews says:

    Hello The study you are doing is Fantastic the moose here in Maine are just spectacular.And I never stop marveling at them. 2 yrs. ago a moose wandered near my home she was acting very strange I ended up calling IFW who came and investigated she was sick with brain worm and needed to be put down. With all our modern technology I truly hope something can be done to ensure their survival.I think the ticks are becoming more of a problem each year not only for humans but our wildlife. Thanks Again for the Fine Job You All Do

  16. ray soriano says:

    can anything be done about the tick problem?

  17. John Buehler says:

    What is the approximate age of this animal? Was it a male or female? How long was it collared? Should we presume that it starved? Or, was it Moose Tick infestation? Or some other cause?
    Hopefully this is Part 1 of a series.
    Thanks for your good work.

  18. Bill Larson says:

    Keep up the good work

  19. Steven DeCoste says:

    Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) can see the need to reduce the amount of permits issued for this year, however you continue to give out November permits to harvest cows that maybe pregnant.

  20. Bob Norsworthy says:

    I stopped hunting after I was finally drawn and shot my moose. I’m interested in all that the MD of IFW is doing and what the results of any studies are. I’m at an age where Fishing is about all that is left for be to do in the ‘Great Maine Outdoors’. Thank you for all you do and try to give a bit more attention to the Aroostook River and it’s trout population…my survey says: The Lowest count of any size in forty years!

  21. Brenda Stickney says:

    In Zone 7, we have noticed the decline of the moose population over the past 5-8 years. We have been wondering when the IFW will acknowledge this, and hunting will be cut back accordingly.

  22. Greg M says:

    I am very curious why northern WMD’s only have been sampled. How can you know what is going on in the whole state when the southern and downeast counties have not been sampled in this study. These areas are more likely to have been affected by climate change and associated tick population increase. What are the numbers and trends here?

  23. Marek Plater says:

    Thanks for a good job to all involved. I hope that some of the results of your studies will be published for us to see.

  24. Perry Thorn says:

    Thanks for the great work you do in Maine. I harvested a bull in 2015. He had very few ticks.

    Has the department ever tried having feeding stations that are surrounded by cattle rubs covered with tick killer? I know it would be expensive but many might be willing to make a donation to a project similar to the idea in my question. Maybe the idea could be used in the worst infested areas.

    The Center for Disease Control has done extensive research on trying to control some types of ticks. Maybe it has some ideas it would share on how to solve the problem.

  25. Jack Dunn says:

    can anything be done about the tick problem?

  26. Darrell Guay says:

    The State of Maine does better then any other state to manage the state’s wildlife, and they do more for the resources of the wildlife and should be commended for this more publicly, and they should be damn proud of their achievements, I personally thank them

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