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Winter ticks may be tiny, but an infestation can take down one of Canada’s most formidable creatures.

Now, scientists in New Brunswick are studying the impact of winter ticks on the moose population.

“There have been several studies that attribute upwards of 70 per cent of late spring mortality to the winter tick parasite loads that moose have,” says Douglas Munn, a graduate student with the University of New Brunswick.

The initiative is part of a five-year research project to understand the effects of winter ticks on moose population dynamics in eastern Canada.

Researchers are studying four moose populations in Quebec and one in southern New Brunswick; 116 animals will be outfitted with GPS collars.

“We are looking specifically for moose calves, so once we have spotted the calf, we try to bring it inside this opening so we can throw a net over it,” explains Jean-Pierre Tremblay, a professor with l’Universite Laval. “We’re using a net gun and it’s a safe and efficient way to catch moose.”

Members of a research team sedated an eight-month-old moose near Tracy, N.B., on Thursday in order to study her and take samples.

While combing through her thick coat, they found thousands of winter ticks.

Winter ticks are problematic for moose as the animals will lose blood, and can also stop feeding, and start grooming excessively to try to stop the itching.

“Calves are particularly susceptible to the parasite loads. They’re much smaller, so therefore they have to replace a larger percentage of their blood if they’re fed off by ticks,” says Munn.

Researchers are also hoping to learn what a warming climate could mean when it comes to tick migration and moose populations.

“What we want to do eventually is to be able to take that knowledge and, using climate scenario, predict how the infestation of winter ticks will change over time,” says Tremblay.

The GPS collars will fall off in late October, providing invaluable insight to researchers in the meantime.