ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Minnesota wildlife researchers will be collecting deer spleens this weekend as the state’s main deer hunting season begins.
The Department of Natural Resources’ researchers are hoping to harvest at least 800 of the organs from whitetail deer killed by hunters for a study that examines the levels of neonicotinoids, which are a family of insecticides that are heavily used in Minnesota-grown corn and soybeans.
The researchers seek to determine whether neonicotinoids, developed in the 1990s, are harming Minnesota’s deer since research shows the chemicals could be doing damage in the Dakotas, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
The effort comes as neonicotinoids face mounting scrutiny for their unintended impacts on wildlife that include honeybees, birds and fish.
Neonicotinoids are not known to cause ill health effects in people, and there has not been evidence that suggests the state’s roughly half a million deer hunters should be worried about feeding harvested venison to their families because of pesticides.
As for the state’s deer population, it’s been generally increasing for numerous years, and hunting and severe winters continue to be the main factors in deer survival.
While Minnesota’s efforts to manage the nascent-but-expanding chronic wasting disease among deer have occupied the minds of hunters and policymakers for more than a year, the worry over deer and “neonics” is new.
“This is one step of us trying to be cutting edge and be on top of the game in managing the deer herd,” said Eric Michel, the state DNR’s farmland deer project leader.
Michel was also the co-author of a recent study from South Dakota State University that garnered the attention of wildlife officials around the U.S. because it linked higher levels of neonics with the reduced survival of baby deer, or fawn, among other health issues.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports in March, found that deer that had elevated levels of the insecticides in their bodies, particularly the spleen, not only had lower fawn survival but also behavioral changes.
The behavioral changes include feeding less frequently and being generally lethargic, and suffering from birth defects, like a pronounced underbite.