Lice infestations hitting deer across California
June 12, 2013
State wildlife officials have linked an infestation of biting lice to the balding of deer across California.
Researchers have examined the hair from more than 600 deer and elk with symptoms ranging from a scruffy-looking coat to almost complete baldness, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday. The species of lice they discovered is normally found in Europe and Asia.
Researchers first became aware of the problem in 2009 when an almost completely hairless deer was found dead in Tuolumne County. Wildlife officials over a subsequent five-month period found 240 dead balding deer in the surrounding mountains.
Infested deer respond by biting and scratching, which researchers believe could be leading to the hair loss, Greg Gerstenberg, a senior wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Chronicle.
Researchers believe the infestations could be linked to a larger number of deer deaths because infected animals are more likely to be attacked by coyotes and mountain lions because they spend so much time grooming, Gerstenberg said.
“While this theory is still under investigation, what we do know is that the louse has impacted migratory populations of California deer, which now have a low fawn survival rate, making it difficult to replenish the herd,” Gerstenberg said.