Elk NetworkDo bugs bug elk?

Conservation | November 9, 2017

You bet. Thankfully, the Lower 48 doesn’t have the staggering hordes of mosquitoes that drive caribou berserk on Alaska’s tundra. While not likely to suck elk calves dry, deerflies and horseflies are enough of a summer nemesis to send elk to high, wind-raked ridges or into the cooling shelter of alpine lakes. Both bulls and cows may go for a summertime roll in the mud.

Scabies, or mites, are tiny insects that feast mainly on mature bulls weakened after the rut. Bulls can itch bare patches in their coats, leading to exposure in winter. If they make it to green-up, though, scabies seem to disappear with a new coat.

Ticks can be another scourge, boring in along the neck, back and under the tail where the hair is sparse and the skin is tender. That’s why elk welcome magpies, cowbirds and other tick-pickers onto their backs. And elk bite back themselves. Renowned elk biologist Olaus Murie reported that elk seem to enjoy gorging on engorged ticks. He observed that “a tame elk ate them with relish.” Bon appetite.