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Look past the deer's tongue

Apr 5, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Some hunters in the Pavillion area have reported harvesting deer with blue tongues, causing them to be concerned about consuming the animals' meat.

Wyoming Game and Fish wildlife biologist for the area Greg Anderson said dark-colored tongues can be caused by at least two diseases, but hunters should pay more attention to the overall condition of the animal when deciding to harvest it or consume its meat.

"If you harvested an animal that is not alert, that has droopy ears, you walk right up to it and shoot it, it's emaciated --any animal in that situation I would be concerned about eating," Anderson said. "If they were up and about, they had fat on them, they were wary ... I wouldn't be concerned about it."

Without seeing the animals, Anderson said he could not say for sure if the harvested deer were sick.

Some diseases can cause deer tongues to turn blue, but other conditions could as well. Typically, however, the two diseases that discolor deer tongues infect deer and kill them by the end of September, before deer hunting seasons open in that area.

The diseases are called epizootic hemorrhagic disease and blue-tongue disease. Both are viruses spread by eating gnats that die when the weather turns cold. The diseases kill infected animals quickly, leaving few sick deer by the time the seasons open.

"An animal dies basically from bleeding to death internally, and there will be lesions often in the mouth and on the tongue," Anderson said. "By the time an animal has a dark tongue and has lesions, the animal is at death's door."

Such animals should appear sick to hunters, he said.

"Their ears would have been saggy. They would have been laying down ready to die," Anderson said.

If the hunters did not see that the deer were sick before they harvested them, the animals likely were uninfected with the hemorrhagic diseases.

"If those animals had dark tongues but otherwise appeared healthy when they harvested them ... that probably wouldn't have been clinically EHD or blue tongue," Anderson said.

Many deer and antelope in the Pavillion area have been exposed to the diseases, but they have survived and are safe to harvest and consume.

"If you shoot a healthy looking animal, if we take blood samples, it's very likely we'll see antibodies related to the virus showing they've been exposed, so it's not really a health issue," Anderson said.

There was a sharp increase in EHD cases among deer in 2013, Anderson said, and white-tailed deer died off in high numbers.

"It tends to run in the drought conditions when the deer that head towards water holes that are drying out, the midges (small flies) tend to thrive in those," Game and Fish wildlife biologist Stan Harter said.

The diseases tend to ebb and flow with climate conditions year to year, he added.

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