Wildlife officials say a tumbleweed lichen is likely responsible for killing seven elk in Wyoming’s Red Desert this winter.
A Wyoming Game and Fish news release says the tumbleweed shield lichen causes long-term paralysis in elk. That usually causes them to die of starvation, dehydration or predation.
Game wardens found an abundance of lichen near seven dead elk in the Great Divide Basin of the Red Desert. Game warden Andy Roosa says they also found red urine stains in the soil, which can be a sign that the animals ate the lichen.
Mark Zornes, a wildlife supervisor for the department, says it’s not clear why elk eat the lichen. He says such incidents are sporadic and don’t impact the overall elk population.