Could a disease arise that killed half the human population? And that inflicted horrifying neurological effects as the victims slowly died? Sure could. It’s happened in other animals. It’s happening right now in moose.
Minnesota saw a 58% decline of the moose population in the northeastern part of the state between 2006 and 2017.
If you’ve ever seen a moose, you know they’re huge and intimidating — you don’t want to tangle with one. The bulls are temperamental and cranky, the cows are fiercely protective, and you really don’t want to have to deal with a 700kg angry beast. But here’s what’s bringing them low.
A primary driver of the decline is brainworm, a parasite that affects the animal’s nervous system ultimately leading to paralysis and death. Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa recently discovered evidence that moose in Minnesota consume species of gastropods —slugs and snails—which are known hosts for the brainworm parasite (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis).
This massive die-off is a consequence of climate change: the worm is moving north as the weather warms, migrating with resistant deer populations whose range is overlapping with that of moose. When people talk about new diseases accompanying climate shifts, this is the kind of thing we’re talking about.
It can happen to us, you know.
I do sometimes wonder if Republicans have been eating snails.