The Hippo


Jul 16, 2019








Wildlife 2016
An update on NH’s animal happenings

By Ryan Lessard


Ticks have been growing in number in the past several years but the good news is a severe and longstanding drought in southern New Hampshire may have decimated the black-legged tick population in the affected regions. Black-legged ticks are the species that transmit Lyme disease.
Entomologist Alan Eaton said he expects numbers to be greatly reduced judging by field samples he collected in October.
Samples submitted to him by residents also went down this year, but he noticed a troubling trend with those samples.
“One thing that did happen that’s a bit disturbing … was every single specimen from Oct. 1 until today has been engorged,” Eaton said.
That tells him too few people are doing body checks and catching ticks early. Lyme disease is typically only transmitted if the tick is attached to a host for 36 to 48 hours, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 
While Eaton expects reduced black-legged tick exposure for humans and animals alike in spring 2017, how mild this winter is will have a big impact on that. 
As long as there’s a long-lasting snow cover, ticks will remain dormant beneath. But if the snow cover melts and temperatures rise to 40 degrees or above, they could become active again, even in winter. If snow cover melts but temperatures drop, that could kill more black-legged ticks. 
Winter ticks, the scourge of New Hampshire moose, are already feeding on their host at this point in the year. If warm temperatures persist through November and early December, that gives more time for winter tick larvae to jump on the bandwagon. If the snow hasn’t melted by the time ticks fall off their hosts to lay eggs (usually January through March) they likely won’t survive, and vice versa.
Fish and Game wildlife biologist Pat Tate said canine distemper (caused by a virus that affects foxes, coyotes and dogs) has been identified in foxes. 
The brain of one dead fox tested positive for distemper in early 2016 and since then there have been approximately seven other cases Tate is aware of with foxes displaying distemper symptoms. 
“I’d absolutely say that’s more than normal,” Tate said.
Symptoms include disorientation, unusual friendliness and risky behavior like standing in the middle of a road. While foxes are generally nocturnal, seeing them active in the daytime doesn’t on its own signify infection. Some foxes will search for food for their young during the day fairly commonly in the spring and summer months.
If you see a fox suspected to be infected, you should stay away and protect your pets. The disease can be often fatal for dogs.
Fox populations have been increasing, based on trapping numbers, Tate said. And diseases like distemper thrive on population density, so it’s possible it could be fairly widespread.
Other diseases like mange might also be going around. 
A photograph of a sickly canine posted to Facebook in June by the Merrimack police chief had some folks fearing the mythical chupacabra. 
Tate says that it’s been his professional experience that a so-called “chupacabra” is always a coyote or fox with mange. The loss of fur changes the animal’s appearance to make them appear almost alien.
Coyotes or coywolves?
You’ve probably heard a neighbor or friend complaining about an apparent increase in coyote activity in the woods near their home. Some say the animals are actually coywolves, hybrids of wolves and coyotes.
Tate said eastern coyotes common to New Hampshire woods are distinct from western coyotes because they are believed to have interbred with red wolves over the course of several decades during their trek eastward. So in a sense, all coyotes in New Hampshire could be called coywolves.
They first appeared in the 1940s, and by the 1970s they were ubiquitous. 
But are there more of them? Tate says not really. 
It may seem that way anecdotally, but trapping figures show populations have remained steady since they reached capacity in the 1970s.
One thing that’s changed in the past decade or so, Tate says, is the trend of calling them coywolves. That, he said, might be inciting more alarm, given the negative associations we have with wolves.
“It creates a public alarm, but people don’t realize they’ve been living next to these animals for over 40 years,” Tate said. 
While Fish and Game annually reminds residents to take down their birdfeeders starting in April, so they don’t attract bears, this is about the time of year it’s OK to start putting them back up. Fish and Game spokesperson Jane Vachon said Dec. 1 through early spring is the ideal time to have birdfeeders up.

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