Winter Ticks in Yukon


What is the status of winter ticks in Yukon?



Winter ticks appear to be established in elk in Yukon. Winter ticks can also be found occasionally on other wildlife species (deer, moose, bears, coyotes, caribou, bison and sheep) as well as dogs and horses.

Climate affects the long term trend and distribution of winter ticks in Yukon: a warming climate supports increased tick numbers and distribution while years with cool, wet spring and fall weather reduce tick survival and slows their spread.

Adult winter tick on and elk (Yukon government photo)

Adult winter tick on an elk

(Yukon government photo)


back to top


How does the Yukon government monitor winter tick numbers?

Winter tick numbers are monitored through the ungulate hide collection program, which started in 2007. Elk, deer, moose and caribou hides, from harvest and roadkills in southern Yukon, are processed with chemicals so that ticks big and small – even the tiny larvae – can be counted and the amount per animal determined.

back to top


Do winter ticks pose any health risk for humans?

No. Winter ticks (Dermacentor albipictus) do not carry any diseases that affect humans. Winter ticks are a different species from Wood ticks (also called Deer ticks) – not present here -- which may carry Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

back to top


Do winter ticks affect the quality of the meat?

No. Winter ticks do not affect the meat in any way. They are an external parasite, like lice or fleas.

back to top


If an animal such as a moose gets winter ticks, will it die?

It takes an extremely high number of winter ticks (i.e. 50,000+ ticks on a moose) before an animal’s health becomes affected. The most ticks yet found on one animal in the Yukon (an elk) was less than 5,000 ticks. Winter ticks have only been confirmed on 3 moose in Yukon, with fewer than 50 ticks found on any animal.

Elk, deer, caribou and bison are all pretty good at grooming winter ticks off before they become a problem. Moose are not, which is why they can be more seriously affected by ticks than other ungulates. If a moose had 50,000+ ticks, it would try scratch its hair off to remove the ticks; in extreme cases, this could result in death from hair loss-related exposure in the winter. Research has found that very high numbers of ticks are generally only present on animals that are already physically stressed from other causes.

back to top


How do winter ticks spread?



Winter ticks are a one-host parasite.

In the fall, winter tick larvae climb up on plants from where they can easily grab onto a passing animal.

They spend the winter on the host animal taking periodic blood meals.

Winter ticks - from newly hatched nymphs to mature adults (Samuel, 2004)

Winter ticks - from newly hatched nymphs the size

of a pinhead (left) to mature adults the size of a pea

(right) (Samuel, 2004)

Over the winter they moult several times until they become adults, dropping off the host in the spring. The ticks lay their eggs in a sheltered spot on the ground before dying. The hatching larvae remain in that area until it’s fall and they begin the cycle again.

back to top


How long have winter ticks been here?

Unconfirmed reports of winter ticks date back to the late 1980s, when a trapper survey noted there were some moose in southern Yukon with patches of hair loss. In southeast Yukon, winter ticks were collected from horses and a moose in the early 1990s – the ticks may have spread north on their own from BC, or may have come up on horses wintered in the south. Winter ticks were next seen on elk in south-central Yukon that were brought here from Alberta in the mid-1990s. Deer migrating north from BC may also have brought winter ticks with them.

back to top


Are winter ticks present elsewhere North of 60?

Winter ticks have been collected from moose in the last six years in the Northwest Territories around Great Slave Lake, and in the Sahtu Region as far North as Norman Wells. Hair loss patterns noted in the NWT in the 1980s may have been due to winter ticks. To date no winter ticks have been found in Alaska.

back to top


Can we get rid of winter ticks in Yukon?

Winter ticks are likely here to stay in the Yukon. The Yukon government captured and intensively managed the Takhini and Braeburn elk herds starting in 2007 in order to reduce winter tick loads, with some success. The elk harvest is designed to prevent elk from spreading ticks to new areas. Despite this, winter ticks have been found on mule deer in parts of Yukon where there are no elk. In 2010, winter ticks were collected from a moose harvested near Watson Lake. A warming climate might further increase winter ticks on the landscape.

If you see winter ticks or hair loss on an animal (especially around its neck), please report it to Environment Yukon at (867) 667-5787 or fish.wildlife@gov.yk.ca. Pictures, ticks, or hides submitted for analysis are appreciated.

back to top


Additional Resources

back to top



If you see winter ticks or hair loss on an animal (especially around its neck), please report it to Environment Yukon

Pictures, ticks, or hides submitted for analysis are appreciated

Phone: 867-667-5285

Toll free (in Yukon): 1-800-661-0408 local 5285

Email: fish.wildlife@gov.yk.ca