Spring is a tough time for moose in Connecticut
Connecticut doesn't have the largest moose population, which added to the level of surprise this past week when two were struck and killed by vehicles within 12 hours of each other on Wednesday
Neither the driver in the North Haven accident that happened just after dawn nor the driver in the Hartland crash that occurred just after dark were injured in the crash and the vehicles avoided heavy damage. It's not often these incidents have happened in Connecticut oftentimes when they have happened elsewhere, because moose can be large animals, more damage or serious risk of injury is possible.
"The number of of fatalities, the number of incidents we have on roadways is relatively consistent with our populations," said Paul Copleman, a DEEP spokesperson. "It's been relatively consistent for some time."
Between 100-150 moose reside in the state, the vast majority of them concentrated in the northwest corner. Of the 50-or-so moose-vehicle crashes since 1995, 12 have occurred in or around Hartland — a town of about only 2,000 people that borders Massachusetts.
"That's because we have the most moose in the state in that town," said Andrew Labonte, DEEP wildlife biologist. "That's a very rural area, heavily wooded."
Hartland also happens to have some actively managed forests. Moose are attracted to regenerating forest areas because they have an abundance of their preferred food: young plants. Most moose strikes and sightings happen this time of year around dawn and dusk.
This time of year is a hard time of year for moose. Spring is when young adult moose are pushed away by their mothers to live on their own. Young moose end up wandering the state, often travelling between 5 to 10 miles a day, looking for a place to settle down. But good moose habitat in Connecticut is limited.
Making matters harder, spring is also the end of a long period of winter starvation. The shoots and leaves that moose eat haven't fully come into their own. There aren't enough calories growing for the moose to make up their fasting deficit.
"It really is the worst time of year for most animals," said Labonte. "They're under winter stress. They have high tick loads and the young animals are getting pushed out away from their mothers."
On top of that, warmer winters have life much harder for moose because of ticks. Warm winters mean that ticks survive, and remain active during the winter. For moose, this can mean trying to survive for months without eating while tens of thousands of ticks can suck their blood.
There are documented cases of moose that have been found with over a hundred thousand ticks on them. That kind of tick burden is even harder for young moose to survive. WBUR, a Boston public radio station, reported in 2022 that 90% of moose calves in Maine had been killed by ticks that winter due to blood loss.
Both moose that were hit this week showed tell-tale bald areas on their bodies. Labonte says that this indicates the moose were scratching themselves to rid themselves of ticks.
"They often call these animals ghost moose because the itching caused from the ticks, they'll try itching themselves against the trees, rubbing the hair off," said Labonte. "The blood loss alone from the ticks feeding on them causes significant health concerns."
The moose struck in North Haven is also believed to have been a juvenile moose that DEEP had been watching wander its way south looking for a home range. Sometimes, in cases like this, DEEP will tranquilize and relocate a young moose to suitable habitat.
Disoriented, wandering young moose are a danger to themselves and to motorists. Moose are larger than deer, and often harder to spot in the dark. During this time of year it is important for motorists to keep a more careful eye out for moose on the side of the road. DEEP has considered installing moose crossing signs as warnings to motorists.
"Often people are under the impression that that is where the moose are supposed to cross," said Labonte. "Not that there is a higher potential for moose crossings."
The state doesn't actively track moose. What we know about moose in Connecticut is dependent on people reporting moose sightings to DEEP. If you see a moose near a highway DEEP asks that you call emergency dispatch (869-424-3333). Other moose sightings can be called in at the Wildlife Division (860-424-3011) or online.
"That citizen science element is really helpful to our biologists," said Copleman. "If folks are seeing moose we would love to hear about it."