What are those other critters crawling around in deer hair?
QUESTION: Bob, here in the Deep South, seeing small ticks on the underside of deer while field dressing them is normal. But I've always noticed there's some other kind of insect crawling around, especially in the white belly hair, that isn't a tick. It's longer, skinny and moves much faster. What the heck are those things? - Jim C.
ANSWER: There are several possibilities, but what you are seeing is most likely something called a ked.
Often mistaken as ticks, keds are actually "louse" flies (Lipoptena mazamae).
They emerge from the pupal stage with wings but lose them once they find a host - usually a deer.
Like ticks they feed on blood but are much more mobile, and are a relatively common ectoparasite of southern deer.
The other possibility is lice.
Two studies - one in Alberta the other in Florida - found two different species of lice on white-tailed deer.
One, Solenopotes ferrisi, is a sucking louse that feeds on blood. They can cause localized skin irritations and is a vectors of several blood-borne diseases.
The other, Tricholipeurus lipeuroides, is a chewing louse that feeds mainly on hair and skin, though some species of chewing lice also feed on blood.
Ordinarily, they're not much of a problem, but biologists are concerned over a recent widespread infestation of Columbian black-tailed and mule deer by exotic lice in Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Idaho.
The lice weaken the deer during winter months resulting in the loss of hair when it's most needed. They also distract deer, making them more vulnerable to predators.